Jonny Bairstow’s golden summer continued with another match-winning knock as his career-best 90 and Moeen Ali’s 16-ball half-century ushered England to victory as runs flowed in the first Vitality T20 international against South Africa.
England feasted on the short boundaries at Bristol’s Seat Unique Stadium as they smashed 234 for six – their second highest total in the 20-over format and enough for a 41-run win.
They rained down a record 20 sixes, with Bairstow and Moeen (52) doing the bulk of the damage during a domineering fourth-wicket stand of 106 in 37 balls.
Bairstow has hit four centuries in his last five Test innings but fell just short of registering his maiden T20 ton, holing out off the penultimate delivery of the innings as he looked to take 10 off two balls. The Yorkshireman needed some luck along the way, dropped on 12, 57, 72 and 77 in a ragged fielding display, but there was nothing fortunate about the ball-striking ability that allowed him to cash in.
South Africa’s hopes of chasing down a mammoth target nose-dived when the in-form Reece Topley removed Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw in the second over of the reply, but a fearless 72 from Tristan Stubbs in his first international innings kept things interesting.
With tension rising late on, Chris Jordan’s precise death bowling saw England safe and Richard Gleeson claimed three wickets in the night’s penultimate over.
The hosts were put in by David Miller, who saw Lungi Ngidi end a dangerous cameo from Jos Buttler and a stodgy one from Jason Roy to leave England on 41 for two.
That brought Bairstow to the crease for his first T20 innings in eight months, a result of England’s compressed calendar rather than a reflection on his first-choice status, and he was soon into his stride with the first of his eight sixes.
Heinrich Klaasen could have prevented most of the damage had he held an early chance at wide long-on but he lost sight of it and bailed on what could have been a regulation catch.
Dawid Malan chipped in a fluent 43 but the arrival of Moeen at number five took things to another level. He and Bairstow at one stage appeared to be engaging in one-upmanship, seeing who could strike the ball furthest, cleanest and longest.
Tabraiz Shamsi finished up a messy three-over spell by going wicketless for 49, Stubbs’ solitary visit cost 20 and Andile Phehlukwayo was treated even more harshly as his final over shipped 33.
Bairstow hit successive sixes in a row to start, followed by two wides and a horrible drop by Reeza Hendricks before Moeen cleared the ropes three times in a row. Moeen’s sixth big hit saw him to 50 from 16 deliveries, shaving one off the England record set by Liam Livingstone last summer.
He was next in but could not add to the tirade, with the focus instead turning to Bairstow’s attempt to become the fifth Englishman to score a T20 century, a pursuit which ended when he skied Ngidi into the deep to complete a low-key five-wicket haul.
Topley undermined the chase with the new ball, De Kock picking out cover and Rossouw hacking to short third in his first knock after six years in Kolpak exile.
But they refused to lie down. Hendricks made the most of the fielding restrictions with a calm 57 before holing out to Moeen’s off-spin. Fellow spinner Adil Rashid nipped out Klaasen and Miller but there was a new threat as Stubbs began showing off his own hitting range.
The 21-year-old rose to the challenge superbly, unloading against pace and spin alike. Even as the required rate climbed to 17 he kept it in sight, taking Moeen for three sixes in four balls.
With 54 needed off the last three overs, Jordan’s yorkers killed things off as he conceded just three off the 18th and five off the 20th. Gleeson cashed in with three wickets in between, Stubbs caught at long-off, Kagiso Rabada cleaned up and Phehlukwayo flapping as the tourists finished well short on 193 for eight.