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Throwback Thursday | Enthralling England script the highest chase in T20 World Cup history

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England had scripted a memorable chase in 2016 WT20


Throwback Thursday | Enthralling England script the highest chase in T20 World Cup history

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Harshit Anand


Welcome to the weekly series where we unveil you a moment, a game in history that has changed the way cricket has been seen and played in our segment ‘Throwback Thursday.' This time we relive the group stage game of the 2016 World T20, where England created history by thumping the Proteas. 

It’s March 18, 2016, and we’re at the Mecca of Indian cricket - Wankhede - for the group stage game between England and South Africa, two teams desperate for WT20 silverware as a sporting crowd in Mumbai is abuzz with what is proving to be an absolute classic. Three balls remain, England are a run away from scripting the highest ever chase in World T20 history while South Africa, who have already taken two wickets off the first three balls of the final over, which is turning into an edge-of-the-seat thriller, are just a couple of wickets away from a tie that would mean nothing less than a triumph and will be remembered for ages.

Moeen Ali is on strike, very well knowing that if he fails to deliver in this pressure-cooker situation, England’s World T20 campaign may well go the disastrous 2015 World Cup way while Kyle Abbott is intent on doing the unthinkable and changing perceptions about South Africa cricket in pressure situations. But wait, what happened that the game reached this blockbuster moment? Let's go on the joyride and find out.

After a forgettable 2015 World Cup, English cricket was slowly but steadily rising from the ashes, taking the tough decisions, adding dynamism, choosing bold over conservative, which culminated in axing of their star Test performers James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ian Bell from white-ball cricket. Eoin Morgan had also started coming into his own. From looking like a guy who got a team he hated to build, he could now trust his instincts and build something special for the future to look back at with pride and exuberance.

The New Zealand ODIs after the World Cup embodied everything that England always needed but never got, but now they had it, a daredevilry approach backed by players matching the required skills. England had finally started playing white-ball cricket like it should be then, simply filling in the squad and turning up for it sans vision. They headed into the 2016 World T20 with the aim of rewriting their dreadful World Cup history and starting a new legacy under a bold and dynamic Irishman Eoin Morgan.

For South Africa, the 2015 World Cup was a rude shock that left them broken with many of their superstars breaking down because they knew that they were close to ICC silverware more than ever before. But, they were hungry as hell for an ICC title win and started preparation with the next World T20 in mind as they went on a belligerent run in bilateral T20Is.

They warmed up well in sub-continent whitewashing Bangladesh 2-0, beating the heavyweights India 2-0 in a three-match T20 series, and thereby setting up a good base with the 2016 WT20 set to be played in India. They also went on to draw the home series against New Zealand, whitewashed England at home, and narrowly lost against Australia 1-2 in a thriller series, in which results of all the games came in the final overs. They were very well prepared for the 2016 WT20 in India and it was a golden opportunity for seniors pros Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn to win an ICC event together after playing for a long time.  

For England, they were overcome by a Chris Gayle special as he powered Windies to a win with a brilliant century as the Three Lions, despite all the bold steps taken in the lead up, fell short in their first game of the World T20. For the Proteas, the clash against England was going to be their first game of the event.

South Africa were the firm favorites going into the game given they had beaten England in a home T20I series not too long back and with England a game down, the Morgan-led side were under immense pressure as one more loss would put their campaign in jeopardy.

And jeez, South Africa went full bonkers on a flat Wankhede pitch with small boundaries. It was reminiscent of their 438 run-effort at the same venue against a hapless Indian side in 2015. Quinton de Kock was creaming the sixes with the ease of a modern master at the peak of his powers while Amla also joined the party as the Proteas hammered 83 runs in the powerplay overs and were targeting 250, at least. However, the newly formed spin duo of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali didn't let that happen and South Africa could make 229, 20 less of what one expected.

England were under heavy pressure, this could have been a big dent in their journey. But, that was the beauty of this bold and dynamic side; they didn't change their game come what may. Roy and Hales were like what de Kock Amla can do, we can do better. They were off to an absolute flyer in literal sense - making 44 in first two overs, the most runs off the first 12 balls in a T20, with both Rabada and Steyn bowling their most expensive T20I overs of their career at that time. England blasted 89 in the first six overs, bettering South Africa in the powerplay.

England kept fighting as Joe Root was in no mood to give up even after the likes of Hales, Roy, Stokes, Morgan and Buttler all got out. He was playing all around the ground, and was playing his best T20 knock yet despite making the slowest fifty of the game. He made 83 off merely 44 and by the time he got out, England needed 11 off 10 with 4 wickets in hand and a record chase in sight. Meanwhile, Imran Tahir had an exceptional game as on a day when bowlers were treated as disdainfully as bowling machines, he emerged the only bowler not to concede a boundary.

England were on the brink of a historic run-chase with one needed off six balls and four wickets in hand and Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan at the crease. Kyle Abbott, who had given 40 off his first three overs, was going to bowl the final over. There was nothing in the world that could complicate the match, at least we thought so, but cricket loves proving people wrong with its maddening uncertainty. 

On the very first ball, Jordan's mistimed tennis-pull landed into the hands of Duminy, who took a blinder, falling backwards. But, thankfully for England, Moeen had crossed over and had the strike. This felt like the end, but there was a 1999 World Cup-esque run-out, albeit by a South African, AB de Villiers, with England on the receiving end, as he didn't miss the run-out like the NZ semi-final game from a year ago. More importantly, it was another dot ball. 1 from 6. 1 from 5. Now, it was 1 needed from 4, with two wickets in the hutch. Moeen was on strike. But Abbott was not going to let it go this easily as Ali again failed to find the gap as the pacer delivered his third consecutive dot ball.

It was now or never for England as a defeat here could prove detrimental to their World T20 hopes. It would have thrown all the good things that they had done in the last one year to the mud, all the changes, all the innovations, the dawn of the new era and what not. The field was up but Moeen was looking clueless under pressure. The so-called chokers were choking the bold and fearless England in the city of dreams. 

The next delivery was going to make or break the classic encounter as it was either going to be a wicket or a run by the looks of it. On one hand, there was Abbott, who was gutted to miss a berth in the 2015 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand and wanted to prove everyone how he could have held his own under the big game pressure, and on the other hand, Moeen was carrying the hopes and aspirations of the new England. Will Abbott do the unimaginable and write a new history of South Africa starting to win under humongous pressure in ICC events, or Moeen script a historic chase in World T20?

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