Sometimes it takes only a few moments to transform a mongrel dog of an evening into a Cruft's Best in Show. For much of the afternoon the rain hammered down on Edgbaston, as it seems to have done during every international match there this season, not just precluding a prompt start but reducing the final international of a drenched summer to 11-overs-a-side. It must be hard then to put heart and soul into it when a flight to Sri Lanka awaits and the crowd who braved an evening with an autumnal chill to it might have expected little.
Then came Jos Buttler. England, put into bat by AB de Villiers, had reached 64 for three after 8.2 overs, largely through the efforts of Craig Kieswetter, when Buttler came to the crease to join his Somerset colleague, and by the time Kieswetter was bowled by Morne Morkel, 11 minutes later in the final over, and the ball after he had completed a 31-ball half-century, the pair had added 48 together from 14 deliveries and transformed not just a mundane innings, but the match. Buttler's contribution to the stand was 31, and his partner 15, with Buttler going on to make 32 from 10 balls only as England reached 118 for five.
It was the left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell who was on the receiving end of what ultimately proved to be the second most expensive over in the relatively brief history of T20 international cricket. It began with the first ball, on a length which Buttler, simply clearing his front, left, leg out of the way, belted straight for six.
Just for good measure he then repeated the dose next ball. De Villiers changed his field and brought fine leg up, a signal to all that Buttler might try his renowned scoop. He didn't play it that ball though, taking two runs instead ,and then watching a no ball go by.
But he did to the following, flipping the free hit, another no ball, audaciously fine, almost over the top of the stumps, and then doing the same to the following: 24 from the over so far. Parnell bowled a length this time, and Buttler pulled the penultimate delivery high over midwicket for a third six, before taking the final ball for two through midwicket again.
Thirty-two runs from a single over has been bettered only in T20 internationals by India's Yuvraj Singh, who famously took the current England T20 captain Stuart Broad for six sixes in a single six ball over.
This was the kind of performance from Buttler that can change strategies and teams. Not long before the last World T20, Andy Flower watched Kieswetter and Michael Lumb open the batting together against his England side in a warm up match in the Emirates and immediately drafted them into what was to prove the winning team. He may already have had Buttler in his plans for a final eleven but this display of counterpunching surely will clinch a place.
The target proved too stiff for South Africa. Richard Levi and Faf du Plessis went to Tim Bresnan and the left-arm spin of Danny Briggs respectively, and AB de Villiers was caught by Jonny Bairstow at deep midwicket off Swann at the mid point of the innings.
When, five balls later, Hashim Amla then clipped Swann to the same fielder in the same position for 36, to bring to an end a most prolific summer for the batsman and a parsimonious over for the bowler that cost two runs, South Africa were in trouble from which they were unable or unlikely, given the freakish nature of Buttler's hitting, to recover. Swann, and Jade Dernbach, who ensured that successive overs cost a total of four runs, made absolutely sure they couldn't, South Africa finishing on 90 for five, to lose by 28 runs.
Until Buttler and Kieswetter came together, the England innings had lacked sparkle, with Lumb, recalled for his first international for well over a year, Luke Wright, and Eoin Morgan mustering 16 runs between them from 23 balls. Kieswetter, though, struck the ball cleanly, hitting two fours and three skimming sixes, to top score and be adjudged England's man of the shortened series.
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