For a split second Ben Stokes pondered the review but sense soon prevailed. The all-rounder had just been trapped plumb lbw by the part-time spin of Aiden Markram on five and with this a World Cup-winning one-day international career was done.
As he left the field his home supporters offered their latest ovation on a day littered with them. There was no grandstand finish for the Durham favourite nor, it proved, the team he leaves behind, South Africa overcoming their hosts and the heat to secure a 1-0 lead with a ruthless performance and a 62-run victory.
Stokes being Stokes would scarcely have cared about his own demise had England got over the line here. Instead he was forced to look on from the balcony as Jos Buttler’s side, earlier broiled in the field to the tune of 333 for five through Rassie van der Dussen’s classy 133 from 117 balls, crumbled to 271 all out from 46.5 overs.
Wickets at regular intervals had sucked the life out of the chase before Anrich Nortje shut it down with four late victims. Joe Root shone with 86 from 77 balls, similarly Jonny Bairstow made a return to the runs column with 63 from 71. But when the former was bowled by Nortje in the 45th over, attempting to force a cut shot off his stumps with 82 still required, South Africa could begin celebrating a party well pooped.
Like India before them the Proteas were just too good. After Van der Dussen set up their highest ODI total in England – and the second highest in the men’s game without a six being struck – Keshav Maharaj marshalled his attack smartly. The captain’s only misstep came when his collision with Andile Phehlukwayo in the field – a nasty shoulder to the jaw – led to Dwaine Pretorius coming on as a concussion sub.
England by contrast continued what has been a struggle to adjust to life after Eoin Morgan. There was a return to the intent of old and a century stand to get their pursuit under way.
But too often execution went awry, be it Jason Roy’s 62-ball 43 ending with a clothed heave to long-on or Bairstow lbw to Markram attempting a sweep.
Buttler and Moeen Ali both fell cheaply to the left-arm spin of Tabraiz Shamsi, while Liam Livingstone chopped on trying to slog Lungi Ngidi. Having earlier dropped Bairstow on 18 in the deep, and earned some ironic cheers from the home crowd for his troubles, it was a particularly sweet moment for the fast bowler.
This was a punishing day, with the mercury hitting 38, ice creams sliding off cones and queues for water snaking further than those for beer. Shade was sparse (offering little respite anyway) such that a number of spectators left early with the intention of returning once the peak had passed.
Somehow the players and officials soldiered on.
All but the ODI debutant Matt Potts, however, with his fine start to life as an England cricketer hitting its first bump when, after his first four overs bled 33 runs, he left the field with heat exhaustion and did n0t return in the first innings. Drinks were mercifully frequent thereafter, the 12th men bringing out parasols and ice packs each time.
Though Potts did later emerge to bat, his absence tested Buttler’s attack after losing the toss. Swing was absent, turn only fleeting and the batters duly tucked in. The seamers toiled the most – Stokes grimaced through five costly overs due to his knee issue – while Moeen and the returning Adil Rashid bowled the longer spells.
Of the three Durham cricketers on show it was Brydon Carse who was the pick, sending down nine overs of commendable heft for just 46 runs, including two at the end that returned one for 12. Like Maharaj’s figures of one for 42 from 10 overs later on, this felt a triumph in the circumstances.
Once Sam Curran had bowled Quinton de Kock inside the powerplay, two century stands featuring van der Dussen were forged in the furnace.
Janneman Malan helped to put on 109 for the second wicket before the opener holed out off Moeen for a 77-ball 57, with Markram then helping add 151 for the third with a 61-ball 77. All three right-handers played the percentages as their hosts visibly struggled.
Van der Dussen climbed highest, crisply finessing the ball along the ground for his third ODI century from only 90 balls.
A life came on 121 as he looked to push on, Bairstow spilling one in the deep, before both set men fell to ambitious heaves off Livingstone in the 46th over as Buttler used his spinners late on.
As the players left the field at the halfway stage Stokes stopped to hand his cap to a youngster in front of the pavilion – a lovely moment at the end of a one-day career that inspired many more. Stokes now turns his attention to what is a resurgent Test team while Buttler is suddenly the England captain with all the headaches.