It may be much too soon to start trilling about fresh beginnings, the promising way ahead and all that guff. But England, in their first match of what is a definitely a new era, did what had seemed increasingly improbable and defeated South Africa last night.
Despite an attack of the jitters as the finishing line approached – Mo Farah it was not – and slowing their run rate to a funereal pace by the end, they did so convincingly enough, winning the third one-day international by four wickets to bring the NatWest Series level at 1-1.
Rather ridiculously, England now resume top place in the ICC one-day rankings, a position they should never have held but may now hold on to if they can win one of the two remaining matches.
More importantly, this victory under Alastair Cook in his first time out as the newly appointed Test captain will have infused a confidence and belief that must have been ebbing away. England dismissed the tourists for 209 in 46.4 overs with a splendidly disciplined bowling performance and then reached the target with two overs left. Any more and they might have fallen short.
The crucial innings was played by Eoin Morgan. His 73 from 67 balls with seven fours, two sixes and abundant precise placement was almost casually thrilling. Jonathan Trott made 71 from 125 balls but, although it was measured well enough, it was a confused innings by the end in which he played himself out of form, was out with five needed and did little to allay the suspicions of those who do not consider Trott to be the most selfless player around. Given the target was so modest, his rate mattered not.
If the tourists could reflect on an indifferent batting exhibition, this was a significant victory for England.
The past few weeks have been fraught with the Kevin Pietersen imbroglio and the retirement of the revered Andrew Strauss as the Test captain two days before this match. Maybe they did this in Strauss's memory, maybe for Cook as the new overall boss. And for Pietersen, of course.
How well England's amended bowling attack responded. Their preferred XI was a surprise, containing as it did both James Tredwell, called into the squad for the rested Graeme Swann, and Jade Dernbach, who nosed ahead of Chris Woakes in the pecking order.
It was, however, the familiar figure of Jimmy Anderson who took four wickets in an ODI for the 11th time. Anderson has bowled better often previously this summer and gone unrewarded.
Sometimes last night he looked tired – it has been another long season – but he swept aside the tail at the end. This was for all the times he has missed the edge and he eschewed that option by bowling three of his victims and having the other lbw.
Tredwell acquitted himself wonderfully. He usually does. He is destined to play his international career in the shadow of others, especially Swann, but each time he has been summoned as cover he has raised the status of the profession of solid county cricketer, who knows his job and does it without frills.
As for Dernbach, he has frills galore, from the multi-tattooed arms to the breathtaking bowling variations. Unlucky though Woakes may have been to be overlooked again, Dernbach was perhaps chosen because he knows the conditions so well on his home ground. Nothing he did disproved that contention.
Both Tredwell's wickets were typical for an off-spinner in one-day cricket, persuading batsmen to go for broke and in both cases just underclubbing to the straight boundary.
South Africa began at a lick and the first few overs promised worrying times for England. After essaying the scene, Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith garnered seven fours in quick time and reached 50 by the ninth over.
Smith then played a shot which could be said to have led to all that followed. His old-fashioned swing across the line looked the worse for being completely deceived in the flight. He was the first of six men to be bowled.
But still, the man whose wicket England needed, and have needed all summer, was there looking resplendent and despite any similarity whatever, bringing to mind the old-time radio comic, Tommy Handley.
Amla was indeed that man again. He had made his way with consummate splendour – he has looked easier on the eye with every visit to the crease this summer – to 43 and looked set for plenty more as usual when he played only half forward to Dernbach and as the ball cut in it took an inside edge on to the stumps.
His departure sent a dose of adrenalin and confidence surging through England. This was the chap they wanted. They really knew then that they could win at last.Reuse content