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Vintage Jofra Archer performance offers inspires England to ODI win in South Africa

Vintage: Archer took six wickets as England ended their tour on a positive note  (Getty Images)
Vintage: Archer took six wickets as England ended their tour on a positive note (Getty Images)

Half-an-hour into the Third ODI here in Kimberley, England were doing a decent impression of the local tourist attraction, having dug themselves a Big Hole.

Three-down inside six overs, with just 20 runs on the board by the end of the powerplay, Jos Buttler’s side were staring down the barrel of a second successive series whitewash and a sixth straight ODI defeat.

What followed was a remarkable turnaround with the bat, then a vintage bowling performance from Jofra Archer, who took six wickets, to end the tour on an optimistic note nine months out from the World Cup, despite a 2-1 series defeat already assured by back-to-back losses in Bloemfontein.

Archer’s clutch display - returning his best international figures of 6-40 - was needed to put the seal on a fightback made possible by a defiant and, eventually, dominant fourth-wicket stand between Buttler and Dawid Malan, who both scored terrific hundreds, their partnership of 236 the fourth-highest in England’s ODI history.

Already the only two Englishmen to have made centuries in all three formats, Buttler’s 131 was another display of his class, an 11th ODI hundred coming only three days after he had finished not-out in the nineties. Malan’s 118 though - his third century in just 15 ODI caps - was a more pertinent reminder of why he ought not to be considered a mere substitute for sexier absentees in a format he has always insisted is his best.

Both were studious in initiating the rebuild before going up through the gears: England scored 129 off the first 30 overs before motoring to a total of 346-for-seven, with a ridiculous 217 runs off the final 20.

Moeen Ali played another fine cameo, striking 41 off 23 deliveries including four sixes, though none of were as entertaining as the bizarre one-handed switch-hit that failed to connect and left Buttler, at the other end, in stitches.

Chasing 347 for victory, half-centuries from Reeza Hendricks and Heinrich Klaasen kept South Africa well in the hunt but Archer’s return late in the innings prevented what looked set to be another storming finish as England claimed victory by 59 runs.

Moeen Ali played another fine cameo (Getty Images)
Moeen Ali played another fine cameo (Getty Images)

That result looked little chance while Lungi Ngidi was tearing his way through the tourists’ top-order, taking a wicket in each of his first three overs to leave England 14-for-three, after the home side had won the toss for a third game in a row.

That Buttler took 14 balls to get off the mark after his unwelcome early arrival at the crease said plenty about both the challenging early conditions and Englands predicament. Malan needed two lives, dropped on 29 and 46.

Gradually though, the pair began to pick their moments for aggression with increasing frequency, making use of the short straight boundaries at the Diamond Oval, hosting its first international cricket since 2018.

Buttler brought up the hundred partnership with a monstrous 105-metre six down the ground, into the wind. Only six overs later, Malan took them to 150 in similarly emphatic style, before the scoring briefly slowed as both men edged more cautiously towards three figures. Malan got there first, cutting beautifully for four, and Buttler followed only two balls later, each, pleasingly, taking 106 deliveries to reach the landmark.

Archer, back in the side after sitting out the middle of three matches, was made to wait as Chris Woakes and Reece Topley shared the new ball. The pair went around the park in the powerplay but combined to make the breakthrough as Bavuma, a centurion in Bloemfontein, was plucked out of the sky by the substantial reach of Topley having prodded at Woakes’ slower ball.

Those were a rarity from Archer, who touched 90mph for the first time in the series in his second over and then struck in his third to remove Rassie van der Dussen. The new man, Aiden Markram, wore a bouncer first ball but was primed for the battle and responded with a crisp straight drive to the rope.

Archer, though, would have the last laugh, making Markram his next victim during a stunning second spell that evoked memories of his whirlwind breakthrough in 2019. After Markram had miscued high to Moeen, David Miller, threatening a charge, was cut in half and feathered behind, Archer and England celebrating the key wicket long before the finger was raised. The very next ball, he was on his way again, only for Marco Jansen’s edge to fall a fraction short of Moeen, who might have done better coming forward.

That seemed to have England well on top, but Klaasen (80) took down the spinners as the momentum swung, leaving South Africa requiring 73 off 66 balls and Buttler with little choice but to throw the ball back to his gun.

Archer, of course, delivered, breaking the partnership and taking three of the last four wickets, confirming in the process that, just two matches into his international return, England’s talismanic white-ball bowler is back.