Stuff that matters

South Africa levelled the series with a mighty 58-run victory over England in Cardiff on a night of glorious rediscovery for the tourists, for whom both Rilee Rossouw and the ability to catch returned in phenomenal style.

The Proteas’ defeat in Wednesday’s opening fixture in Bristol was marked by some hapless fielding but here they were almost faultless. Their improvement was not confined to catching but nevertheless not a single genuine chance went unsnaffled, with Keshav Maharaj providing the highlight with a fabulous diving grab to dismiss Moeen Ali, leaving England’s score at 88 for four and their chances at minimal.

Several bowlers emerged in significant credit including Tabraiz Shamsi, who leaked 49 runs in three wicketless overs the previous evening and took three for 27 off four here. But if they sealed the deal in the field it was with the bat that South Africa built the platform.

Rossouw, 32, was instrumental in that effort. For the last six years he has wandered, entirely voluntarily, in the international wilderness. This series marks his first appearance in the South Africa side since taking a Kolpak contract at Hampshire and leaving his homeland in acrimony in 2016 and he showed what they have been missing in the intervening period – and what they have now gained as they move towards October’s T20 World Cup.

He finished unbeaten on 96 having faced 55 deliveries, marooned short of his century thanks to a superb final over from Chris Jordan, which cost just four runs. “To put in a performance like that for my country is special for me,” Rossouw said. “Since Brexit happened I’ve put in some really good performances and the management has backed me and selected me. Representing your country is the proudest thing anyone can do and today was emotional for me.”

Though Quinton de Kock fell early, South Africa eased their way into the middle overs without great drama or further loss. Reeza Hendricks instantly rediscovered the form that brought him a half-century in Bristol while at this point Rossouw simply tried to keep pace.

Hendricks eventually fell to an excellent catch from Jonny Bairstow after scoring 53 off 32. Though his innings contained two sixes his final shot was the furthest he hit the ball all evening, but it flew towards the most distant point on the longest boundary and did not quite travel far enough.

Rossouw reacted to the end of their 73-run partnership as if personally affronted, hitting 36 off his next 16 deliveries despite spearing one of them into the underside of his own chin. First Heinrich Klaasen and then Tristan Stubbs watched him go from the other end, the latter kept under a measure of control after Wednesday’s fireworks.

England’s innings was not one they will want to linger on, but along the way Jos Buttler demonstrated the first clear difference between his captaincy and that of his predecessor, Eoin Morgan. He promoted Moeen once again, the all-rounder coming in after Dawid Malan fell for just five, and was himself replaced by Sam Curran, left-hander following left-hander as Buttler prioritised contrasting partnerships over notional batting order. But Curran only lasted three balls, at which point England ran out of left-handers and their innings entered a terminal tailspin.

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It had started promisingly, with Buttler unleashing a succession of brutal blows. But as on Wednesday his stay at the crease was brief, and having scored 29 off 14 he spooned an Andile Phehlukwayo delivery into the sky and Hendricks collected the ball on its way down.

On an unedifying evening for the home side only one Englishman outscored their captain and that was by only one run – inevitably it was Bairstow, who hit 30 off 21 before falling to another outstanding catch, this time from Lungi Ngidi.

The result tees up what will be a decider in Southampton on Sunday, with England desperate to round off a frantic white-ball summer in positive style. “You want to win every series you play,” Buttler said.

“We haven’t won one yet this summer and that’s something we’re not accustomed to as a group, but this is the start of a new cycle as a team. We’re still working ourselves out and gelling and we need to do that quickly. Winning a series would be great for that.”