The Proteas returned to international cricket for the first time in nearly nine months on Friday, but their reintroduction ended in defeat after Jonny Bairstow inspired England to a five-wicket win in the opening KFC T20 international in Cape Town.
The right-hander blasted an unbeaten career-best 86 off 48 balls, which included nine fours and four sixes, at Six Gun Grill Newlands as the tourists comfortably chased down 180 to claim a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Faf du Plessis impressed for South Africa by top-scoring with 58 off 40 balls (4 fours, 2 sixes), while George Linde also excelled on debut by claiming two for 20 in four overs – 13 of his deliveries being dot balls.
Opening the bowling with his slow left-arm spin, coupled with good support from Lungi Ngidi (2/31) and Tabraiz Shamsi (1/27), the hosts had the visitors under control with four overs to go.
But an expensive 28-run 17th over by Beuran Hendricks (0/56) turned the match and allowed England to finish the game with four balls to spare.
Touring captain Eoin Morgan won the toss and opted to bowl first at the start, with his decision looking a good one when Temba Bavuma, attempting a scoop, was dismissed for five by pick-of-the-bowlers Sam Curran (3/28).
Du Plessis was next in and helped skipper Quinton de Kock (30 off 23 balls) add 77 for the second wicket in what was the biggest stand for the home side.
Most of the other runs came via the bat of Rassie van der Dussen (37 off 28 balls) and that of Heinrich Klaasen (20), with Linde’s 12 off six balls helping the innings end with a flourish.
The new man then accounted for Jason Roy for a second-ball duck to leave England on the back foot at the start.
Jos Buttler (7) and Dawid Malan (19) were also sent packing relatively cheaply sending the score to 34 for three.
But Bairstow and Ben Stokes (37 off 27 balls) – two players who have fond memories of the famous Cape Town venue – rebuilt with a key 85-run partnership that kept their team in the chase.
But when the Stokes fell to false stroke off Shamsi, the pressure was on England.
However, Hendricks’ wayward 17th over changed the game and brought the equation down from 51 off 24 balls to 23 off 18 balls, with Bairstow doing the rest by closing out the game.
The teams wore black armbands in answer to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for five days of national mourning for the victims of Gender Based Violence and COVID-19. They will again do so in the second match of the series in Paarl on Sunday.