The South Africa A bowlers still occasionally sprayed the ball around like confetti, but their overall performance was much better as they bowled the England Lions out for 209 to clinch a 78-run victory in the final limited-overs international at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Thursday night.
After Reeza Hendricks’ century had carried SA A to 287 for six, just two English batsmen really troubled the home bowlers, with Jonny Bairstow scoring 64 and Samit Patel 55 as they added 76 for the fifth wicket.
Kagiso Rabada was the most successful SA A bowler with four for 51 (and one just had to love the way he kept bouncing back from being belted for a boundary by invariably dismissing his tormentor), but Chris Morris was the best of the attack with an outstanding two for 23 in eight overs.
SA A captain Dean Elgar called on him to bowl the first batting powerplay over with the England Lions still very much in contention on 180 for five, needing 108 runs off 90 balls to complete a 4-0 series triumph, and Morris delivered a superb spell, conceding just four runs in three overs and claiming the wickets of Adil Rashid (8) and Tim Bresnan (1).
It was a super evening all round for him as he had earlier made a vital contribution with the bat, lashing 35 not out off 20 balls to boost SA A after a middle-order collapse saw them lose four wickets for 37 runs.
The start of the England Lions run-chase was delayed for 35 minutes because the floodlights were not working to full capacity and they were quickly under pressure as Marchant de Lange and Beuran Hendricks each took a wicket with the new ball.
Captain James Vince looked threatening as he scored 23 before Rabada had him caught at cover-point, but it was Elgar who showed he’s an under-rated bowler when he claimed the key scalp of Bairstow, trapped lbw with a straight, full delivery, as he delivered an excellent spell of one for 16 in five overs just before the powerplay.
Hendricks stamped himself as a new contender for the national team’s opening berth as his splendid century carried South Africa A to 287 for six.
Hendricks and Elgar formed a wonderful partnership up front as they added 149 for the first wicket in 28 overs after SA A were sent in to bat.
What was most impressive about their stand was the way they married watchfulness with an ability to work the ball around and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
While Elgar fell for a determined 66 off 74 balls, Hendricks went on to score 107 off 128 deliveries, with 10 fours and a six, before being bowled by Bresnan with the total on 210 in the 39th over.
The England Lions were on top from that moment on, claiming three more wickets and it was only thanks to a fiery late burst from Morris that SA A were able to post 287, when something over 300 was certainly on the cards.
Hendricks went to his half-century first – his third of the year – off just 59 balls with seven fours.
Elgar reached his half-century six overs later, although he took two fewer deliveries, but his demise came when he tried to slog-sweep leg-spinner Rashid, but could only top-edge a catch to deep midwicket.
Hendricks brought up his second century of the series in the batting powerplay with a beautifully balanced and controlled flick off his pads off left-arm seamer Harry Gurney for his 11th four, but an over later, SA A lost their second wicket.
Theunis de Bruyn had breezed to 29 off 25 balls, as he and Hendricks added a run-a-ball 53, but then chanced his arm once too often against the impressive Jack Brooks and was bowled.
Brooks was the golden arm for the England Lions on Thursday as he also bowled Stiaan van Zyl for 21 and then claimed a return catch off Khaya Zondo (7) as the SA A innings just faded away.
Bresnan claimed the wicket of Hendricks in the 39th over, hitting the middle stump as the 25-year-old tried to drive through the on-side.
Gurney added the soft wicket of Dane Vilas (8), cutting to point, and it was only the big–hitting Morris, smiting three fours and clearing the boundary twice, that lifted SA A in the last handful of overs.
Brooks was the best of the touring bowlers, finishing with three for 55, including two for 18 in his last three overs at the death.