England were knocked out of the ICC World T20 with one group game remaining, eventually falling short by just three runs as they so very nearly chased down South Africa’s imposing total of 195.
Victory for South Africa moves them into the next stage of this year’s competition, while England have one more fixture - against the Netherlands - and will fly home left to wonder what might have been were the weather not to have intervened against New Zealand.
Hashim Amla laid the foundations for the Proteas’ total as he made light work of England new-ball attack, cruising to 56 in typically masterful style, as the opener hit six fours and two maximums in a 37-ball knock.
England were able to wrest back the initiative once Amla had been dismissed, with Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy quickly following, but stand-in captain AB de Villiers played an explosive hand to tip the balance once more.
De Villiers smashed nine fours and three sixes in his unbeaten 69 from only 28 balls as South Africa posted an imposing 196-5 after being inserted into bat. England, though, set about their chase in rapid fashion as the confident Alex Hales, the hero against Sri Lanka, picked up where he had left off.
The Notts opener was handed a reprieve when he was caught off a no-ball, which replays proved to be an incorrect decision, and partner Michael Lumb joined in with some lusty blows as England raced along above the required rate.
But Wayne Parnell was able to dismiss Lumb and Hales in consecutive overs, both caught by David Miller, before Moeen Ali feathered to De Cock the next ball after the ousting of the latter. The triple breakthrough placed the shackles on England, and Eoin Morgan mustered only one boundary before his departure, with England still needing 92 runs to win.
Jos Buttler attempted to inject some pace, but his dismissal appeared to be terminal for England’s chase, although Ravi Bopara and Tim Bresnan ensured it went to the last over. Twenty two runs were needed from the 20th, bowled by the frugal Dale Steyn, and England hope was immediately extinguished when Bopara was caught in the deep from the first ball.
Bresnan, however, ensured there were some nervous moments for Steyn and South Africa as he hit the last three balls for six, four and six, but England ended up marginally short.