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Stokes anchors innings as England set South Africa 312 to win World Cup opener

Four England batsmen hit half-centuries.

Ben Stokes top scored for England (Nigel French/PA)
Ben Stokes top scored for England (Nigel French/PA)

Ben Stokes led the way with 89 as England posted 311 for eight against South Africa in the opening game of the World Cup.

On an Oval pitch that did not lend itself to the domineering style favoured by the hosts, Stokes anchored the innings with his best score in almost two years.

His was the highest of four half-centuries, Jason Roy, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan all falling in the fifties, but regular wickets hurt the momentum and a return of 76 for four from the last 10 overs was a modest one.

Faf du Plessis won the toss and bowled first, springing a surprise by tossing the new ball to Imran Tahir. The 40-year-old duly became the first spinner to bowl the first over of a World Cup, a ploy that paid off in dramatic fashion.

After a Roy single got the tournament under way in an understated manner, Tahir’s second ball gripped off the surface, took Jonny Bairstow’s edge and nestled in Quinton de Kock’s glove for a golden duck.

Tahir sprinted off in jubilation as the sold out stadium took a collective intake of breath. Fortunately for England, Roy and Root were able to take the sting from the early setback. The pair safely added 106 with minimal risks, replacing the shock of the Bairstow dismissal with a sense of calm.

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Morgan (left) and Stokes shared a century stand (Nigel French/PA)

They were neck-and-neck throughout their stays and then departed in the space of four balls, Roy (54) top-edging an Andile Phehlukwayo short ball and Root (51) steering Kagiso Rabada to backward point.

The innings had arrived at its next crossroads, leaving captain Morgan to seize the moment. He carved Lungi Ngidi for the first six of the competition in the 26th over and rocked back to pull the very next delivery over fine leg for another.

He led another century stand alongside Stokes, who came to life with three boundaries in four Dwaine Pretorius deliveries, and slog-swept Aiden Markram for his third maximum of the day.

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Buttler chopped on for 18 (Tim Goode/PA)

Morgan became the third batsman to fall while set, well held by the diving Markram as Tahir claimed another big scalp, but Stokes made sure he did not make the same mistake after bringing his half-century up in 45 balls.

Dangerman Jos Buttler came and went for just 18, uprooting his own off stump after playing on to Ngidi’s cutter, placing the burden firmly on Stokes. He could not conjure a blockbuster finish alongside the lower order but nudged the total to 300 before becoming Ngidi’s third wicket.

PA

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