There was no fairytale finish to one-day international cricket for Ben Stokes on home turf, as he faltered with bat and ball at Chester-le-Street as South Africa kicked off the Royal London Series with a 62-run win over England.
Stokes’ 105th and final ODI appearance was not one he will remember for his own contribution, bowling five stiff and wicketless overs for 44 runs before being dismissed for five, but the handful of ovations he received from a sell-out crowd was a touching reminder of the World Cup hero’s enduring legacy.
Having lost four of their six games against India this month, England’s white-ball woes under new captain Jos Buttler continued as Rassie van der Dussen’s career-best 134 set the stage for a heavy defeat.
After asking the hosts to field in brutal 37-degree heat, the Proteas put on 333 for five – their new record in English conditions – as Van der Dussen shared century stands with Janneman Malan (57) and Aiden Markram (77).
England were all out for 271 in response, with Joe Root’s 86 a classy but ultimately inconsequential footnote.
England were lethargic in the oppressive conditions, with debutant Matthew Potts managing just four overs with the new ball before succumbing to the heat and spending the rest of the innings recovering.
Much was expected of returning leg-spinner Adil Rashid, back after completing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, but he was kept quiet as South Africa milked his 10 overs for 63.
The tourists batted with purpose throughout, never going for broke but safely racking up a hefty score. Van der Dussen set the tone with his anchoring knock, scoring just 40 of his runs in boundaries and scampering between the stumps for the remaining 93.
He was as grateful for the increased breaks in play as England’s weary bowling attack, with ice packs, drenched towels and parasols all ferried on and off to keep the players cool.
Potts’ absence left England with overs to find and while Stokes would have loved to step up, he grimaced his way through two uncomfortable spells that merely underlined the reasons for his early exit.
Instead it was Liam Livingstone’s mix-and-match spin which accounted for the two top scorers, Van der Dussen clean bowled and Markram holing out in the space of three deliveries. Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and Brydon Carse each took one apiece.
England have chased down totals larger than 334 five times, but some of the results since Eoin Morgan passed the reins to Buttler this month made it look a sizeable task.
Openers Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow are tough to intimidate and they peeled off 102 to get the chase up and running – a record 14th century stand. But despite an early six from Roy, one more than South Africa managed in their innings, they never really dominated the bowling in the way they like to.
South Africa’s plans were disrupted when Andile Phehlukwayo was accidentally floored in a collision with captain Keshav Maharaj. But while England had to cope with the loss of Potts, South Africa were able to draft Dwaine Pretorius as a concussion substitute.
England needed one of their top two to go big. Both were cut short, Roy holing out off Maharaj for an unfulfilled 43 and Bairstow lbw for 63 sweeping Markram.
That brought Stokes to the crease for his last ODI stand to a rousing reception that would be repeated 11 balls later as he made the return journey to the pavilion.
He mustered just five before a reverse went wrong, pinning him clean in front of the stumps. He briefly considered calling for DRS in a last-ditch attempt to extend his stay but thought better of it and exited the stage with an air of resignation.
Root set about compiling a lovely cameo, filled with dozens of classical strokes, two big blows for six and his new favourite reverse ramp over third man. But the rest of the middle-order crashed and burned.
Buttler and Moeen Ali were undone by the spin of Tabraiz Shamsi, Livingstone dragged Lungi Ngidi into his stumps and with 119 needed off the last 10 overs the game was already gone, Anrich Nortje wrapped things up by taking the last four wickets, castling Root then seeing off the tail.