But while Hales (112) played a measured innings, he received little support from his teammates in a disappointing batting display from the visitors after Proteas captain AB de Villiers won the toss and elected to bowl first in the series decider.
De Villiers would’ve been pleased with his bowlers’ display, and it’s now all up to the batsmen to chase down 237 for victory to win the series.
The decision to field was understandable as light rain had fallen in Cape Town about an hour before play started, although it didn’t delay proceedings, while the cloudy skies would also assist swing bowling.
But it was leg-spinner Imran Tahir – who came on for the fifth over already – who made the initial breakthrough when he trapped Jason Roy lbw for eight with a wonderful, quicker delivery that beat the edge and got him plumb in front.
De Villiers tried to unsettle the English batting line-up as he utilised four different bowlers in the first six overs after Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada opened the bowling, to be followed by Tahir and Chris Morris.
But following some tight early overs, Morris released the pressure as he sprayed the ball down leg-side throughout his opening spell, which saw Hales in particular take full advantage by clipping him off the pads and hips.
However, Morris was unlucky when he did get it in on off-stump as Joe Root flashed at a ball on 13 and the edge flew to Hashim Amla at slip. The ball was travelling quickly, but it was straight at Amla, who put it down.
Tahir, though, ensured that the drop didn’t cost too many runs when Root (27) went on the sweep and missed the ball. Umpire Johan Cloete gave it not out, but the Proteas asked for a review and the replay showed that the ball was hitting middle stump.
England captain Eoin Morgan (2) continued his lean run with the bat when he played a shocking shot when chasing a wide delivery from David Wiese outside off, only to get a feint edge to Quinton de Kock.
That saw England stuttering at 85/3, and the Proteas were already into the all-rounders as Ben Stokes walked to the wicket. The big left-hander played with typical belligerence in putting up a 70-run stand with Hales in just 11 overs to give the England innings the necessary impetus in the middle stages.
But just when he looked set for a big score, Stokes (29) walked across his stumps to Rabada and missed the ball completely to see his leg-stump bail knocked over.
As if that wasn’t enough of a blow, Rabada followed it up with a brilliant in-swinger to find the inside edge of Jos Buttler’s bat, and the English wicket-keeper played it on to the stumps to be out for a duck.
England never got going and lost wickets at regular intervals through a combination of poor shot selection and the odd fine delivery from a Proteas bowler. Perhaps due to their lengthy batting line-up, the visitors didn’t show the patience required on a Newlands pitch that was a bit two-paced, with good bounce.
Hales showed his teammates how to construct an innings on this surface, working the ball around the field and putting the bad ball away, even though he also had a few fortunate moments with a couple of edges here and there.
He brought up his second ODI hundred with a superb on-drive off Morris off 116 balls, and soon went past his previous best of 109 against Pakistan.
But when he fell for 112 off 128 balls (14x4) to an excellent catch by Rilee Rossouw on the square leg boundary off Rabada, it meant that England would struggle to reach 250, let alone bat out their overs.
And so it proved as Moeen Ali (12), Chris Woakes (0), Adil Rashid (9) and Stuart Broad (13) all got out while attempting a big shot instead of batting out the full 50 overs as England were dismissed for 236 off 45 overs.
Rabada was again the pick of the South African attack with 3/34 in nine overs, Wiese got some sharp movement in claiming 3/50 in nine, while Tahir continued his upward curve from the Wanderers with 3/53 in 10 overs. Abbott maintained good control as well with his cutters, going for just over three runs an over with 1/28 in nine overs.
But Proteas coach Russell Domingo will be concerned by another below-par performance with the ball from Wanderers batting hero Morris, who battled to keep the ball outside off and bowled too many down leg-side in conceding 59 runs in eight overs.
The Proteas made one change to their team from the Wanderers game on Friday, with JP Duminy surprisingly left out on his home ground for Rilee Rossouw in the middle-order.
Duminy hasn’t been at his best in the international arena this season, but scored 31 off 49 balls on Friday night. He has a total of 91 runs in three innings in the series, and can feel a bit hard done by to be left out for Rossouw, who has 30 runs to his name in two innings against England.
TEAMS FOR NEWLANDS
South Africa: Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (captain), Rilee Rossouw, Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Imran Tahir.
England: Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, Reece Topley.
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Alex Hales held the England innings together with a career-best ton to carry the visitors to 236 all out at Newlands on Sunday.
Original source: Rabada shines as England tumble