After a terrible start, Jos Buttler and Dawid Malan helped England in putting a total of 346-7

Following his century, Dawid Malan leaves from the crease

The persistent, smart, and potentially significant hundreds of Jos Buttler and Dawid Malan saved England from a disastrous 14 for 3. They set South Africa a target of 347 for a win in the third and final ODI at Kimberley.

For the first time since 2009, England was facing the possibility of dropping six straight one-day internationals when Buttler and Malan put on a 232-run partnership for the fourth wicket following Lungi Ngidi’s three wickets for seven runs in the space of 11 balls.

The 10-over mark came after South Africa had won the toss and decided to send the visitors in on a ground surprisingly hard to defend on, and England’s scoring pace was going absolutely nowhere at 20 for 3, their second-lowest score at that juncture of an ODI innings since 2006.

Ngidi attacked with his sixth ball—the day’s 12th—as Jason Roy approached on one that moved slightly away, poorly timed his attempted drive, and chipped weakly to mid-off, where Temba Bavuma easily took a catch. Ngidi had smashed beautifully with his first five balls.

With a shorter ball aimed across left-hander Ben Duckett in his second over, Ngidi struck again right away. Heinrich Klaasen replaced Quinton de Kock, who had a thumb injury in the second game, behind the wickets. 

Duckett, who was playing in the format for the first time since 2016 but only managed 23 runs from his three innings, had a lackluster series with the bat coming to an end, leaving England at 5 for 2.

When Ngidi got Harry Brook behind stabbing at a wide delivery outside off stump that hit the inside edge, he was unable to help his side after scoring 80 in the second game, after a debut duck in the series opener.

It took Buttler 14 balls to get off the ground after finding the going to be difficult. He did so by clipping Marco Jansen in front of the goal.

As Buttler started to try to pick up the pace, Aiden Markram entered the attack and had his fourth ball hit for six over long-off. That came after David Miller dived, picked up the ball, and fired it towards Klaasen in one motion, barely avoiding being run out, and before Malan’s pull shot off Tabraiz Shamsi when on 23 sailed past Reeza Hendricks’ fingertips.

Even slower than usual for him, Buttler’s 24th ODI fifty came off 64 balls, which was exactly what his team needed under the conditions. 

When Shamsi dove to his right for an attempted return catch but could only grab a finger to it, he lost the opportunity to get rid of Malan. Two balls later, Malan sent Parnell over the fence at deep square leg to reach an even slower half-century (off 79).

But after that, Malan started to attack, hitting Parnell to the boundary through backward point and launching Shamsi for six over wide long-on. Shamsi then gave up a second maximum in three balls when Buttler smashed him over midwicket.

The England pair started to attack on anything short, and Jansen gave up enough as he gave up 18 runs off the 34th over, 17 of which went to Malan, who hit three consecutive balls that were aimed to the leg-side boundary or beyond. 

The following over from Sisanda Magala saw Buttler punish a short ball from Markram into the stands over deep midwicket, and the pair added centuries in the space of three balls, Malan dabbing to the deep-third rope and Buttler flicking to the leg side for two. Buttler’s fifty came off only 42 balls, and Malan’s second fifty came off just 27.

The two didn’t give up, and because of their efforts, England was in serious trouble at 246 for 4 before Malan’s leading edge off Magala found Klaasen waiting behind it at short fine leg.

With back-to-back sixes, including one off a no-ball from Ngidi, Moeen Ali made an impactful comeback and helped England surpass the 300-run mark that had previously appeared so far away. 

Ngidi ended up giving up 62 runs for his four wickets as England scored 270 runs off the final 30 overs. Moeen contributed 41 runs in just 23 balls, including four maximums, before being bowled by Ngidi with a yorker that tore between his ankles.

Three balls later, Buttler’s innings came to an end when he holed out to long-on off Jansen, although by that point, England was in charge of their own destiny given that their opponents had managed 347 for 5 in successfully chasing down their total in Bloemfontein the previous Sunday.