Too much change all at once can have a disorienting effect on the soul. So in a small way it was almost comforting that normal service on tour was resumed yesterday.
England, who had departed tradition by playing with controlled efficiency and no little pizzazz in their opening two matches, returned to it with aplomb by being stunningly awful. They were bowled out for 89 with 15 balls unused in the warm-up Twenty20 match with South Africa A.
On a surface unfit for Twenty20 cricket, they then at least caused their opponents some discomfort. But the match ended in a four wicket defeat with 2.3 overs left. It was a dire advertisement for the shortest form of the game, and might have been devised by the Test Cricket Preservation Society.
Perhaps this is how it is meant to be for England on their travels. They rarely settle quickly and there had been something eerily smooth about their two straightforward victories, Norman Wisdom playing James Bond.
The tourists, invited to a bat, never came to terms with the pitch, the same track on which they had so easily rebuffed the Diamond Eagles four days earlier. It was slow, it offered generous turn and it needed careful management. Had England reached 120 they would assuredly have been in the game but they failed to respond and played some gloriously inept cricket.
"It's something we've got to address, what a good score is on different pitches," said England captain, Paul Collingwood. "In most Twenty20 matches a par score is around 160 but 120 to 130 would have been good tonight. We went at it too hard and there was some pretty poor cricket on both sides."
England have previous in Twenty20, of course. Of recent vintage, who can forget their wretchedness in the Stanford Twenty20 for $20m match in Antigua a year ago, the memory of which may even now be keeping its promoter, Allen Stanford, warm in an American jail where he is facing charges of fraud? Or their calypso collapse to the West Indies in Trinidad last spring? And what of their defeat to the Netherlands in the World Twenty20?
It was an unfamiliar England side and although this was not a full international (there are two of those against South Africa in the next few days) it featured yet another different opening partnership in Joe Denly and Alastair Cook. England, who change T20 openers as if they were socks, have played only 21 international matches and had 13 first-wicket combinations.
The tourists were also without their three front-line seamers, James Anderson (who had a sore knee), Stuart Broad (shoulder) and Graham Onions (back). It was not without irony that their captain and best batsman, Andrew Strauss, was unavailable because he has retired from Twenty20 cricket.
Cook and Denly were acquisitive enough, though Cook especially struggled with his timing and both offered chances. Denly was caught behind and Jonathan Trott poked one to cover.
It was when Collingwood, who had four and six from his first two balls, departed to a viciously turning off-break from Thandi Tshabalala, departed that England might have sensed trouble. But they were much too willing to make it for themselves.
They played some ill-advised strokes and, worse, went for runs which can have existed only in the most unstable imaginations. Their last seven wickets went down in 32 balls for 18 runs.
But this England seem to be made of stuff that does not crumble at the first sign of pressure and opened the bowling with the off-spin of Graeme Swann. It worked too as he struck in his second over in a lovely little spell.
There were two wickets too for Adil Rashid who was much less precise in his length. There were moments when England might just have dared think that 89 was indeed plenty and at 61 for four in the 14th over it was not quite a sealed deal.
Collingwood was correct in giving the part-time leg spin of Denly a bash but Vaughn van Jaarsveld put a summary end to England's comeback by planting two sixes into the stands.
Bloemfontein: South Africa A beat England by four wickets. South Africa won toss
A Cook c Rossouw b Ontong 22/0/1/30
J Denly c Kuhn b de Villiers 7/0/1/9
J Trott c Bosman b de Villiers 7/0/1/10
*P Collingwood b Tshabalala 18/1/2/11
E Morgan c Theron b Tshabalala 11/0/0/18
†M Prior run out (Ontong) 1/0/0/4
L Wright run out (Theron) 2/0/0/2
T Bresnan run out (Bosman) 4/0/0/6
A Rashid not out 6/0/0/8
G Swann c van Jaarsveld b Ontong 1/0/0/2
S Mahmood b Theron 1/0/0/5
Extras (lb 6, w 3) 9
Total (17.3 overs) 89
Fall: 1-19, 2-27, 3-49, 4-71, 5-75, 6-75, 7-77, 8-82, 9-85, 10-89.
Bowling: R Kleinveldt 2-0-10-0, C de Villiers 3-0-19-2, M Morkel 3-0-14-0, J Theron 2.3-0-15-1, T Tshabalala 4-0-16-2, J Ontong 3-0-9-2.
SOUTH AFRICA A
L Bosman st Prior b Swann 18/0/2/34
†H Kuhn c Cook b Swann 4/0/0/6
R Rossouw c Prior b Rashid 23/0/3/25
V van Jaarsveld c Denly b Mahmood 23/2/1/12
*J Ontong c Denly b Rashid 6/0/1/12
R Kleinveldt run out (Rashid) 13/0/1/16
M Morkel not out 0/0/0/0
C de Villiers not out 1/0/0/1
Extras (w 1, nb 1) 2
Total (6 wkts, 17.3 overs)90
Fall: 1-4, 2-46, 3-50, 4-61, 5-87, 6-89.
Bowling: G Swann 4-1-9-2, T Bresnan 3.3-0-16-0, S Mahmood 3-0-12-1, A Rashid 4-1-22-2, P Collingwood 2-0-16-0, J Denly 1-0-15-0.
Umpires: M Erasmus & B G Jerling.Reuse content