England's most successful coach came back yesterday. Duncan Fletcher sat on the boundary at Senwes Park and did what he does best, maybe better than anybody else in the world: assess and analyse cricketers.
But he was not there on behalf of England, whose fortunes he guided sagely and prosperously, until the catastrophic end, for eight years. He is paid for his expertise these days by South Africa as consultant batting coach.
Fletcher has an eye for minuscule detail and can spot glitches in technique at 1,000 paces. From a somewhat lesser distance he will have spotted a few in England's top order yesterday to impart to his new employers.
They were not sufficient to prevent England nosing a tricky little encounter with South Africa A, the last warm-up match before the real business of this tour begins with the first match of the one-day series on Friday.
It was less straightforward than it eventually looked but England will have been pleased not only to get out of this little backwater with the correct result but apparently without further injuries. The tourists were down to the bare bones yesterday.
They had only 11 players in their squad of 16 who were deemed fit enough to play; three did not make the journey from Johannesburg. Alastair Cook awoke with a stiff back, which ruled him out of contention along with Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Graeme Swann and Paul Collingwood. Liam Plunkett, who is already in the country as part of the performance squad and has been selected for the Test party, has been called up as cover for the first two ODIs.
There were periods when England looked as though they might make a mess of pursuing the 280 they needed to win, especially when the asking rate went past nine an over. In the event there were 11 balls to spare when Luke Wright boomed the final boundary.
His late intervention, with an unbeaten 25 from 14 balls, was decisive. England's innings had entered a worrying torpor after the brisk start it was given by their captain, Andrew Strauss, who was returning to duty after his Twenty20 holiday.
Jonathan Trott, with his third fifty of the tour, and Matt Prior shared a fourth-wicket stand of 66 but there was still plenty to do when Trott was out pressing the throttle. Prior kept his nerve and victory was assured easily.
Fletcher had his own vagaries of fortune with England's one-day side but South Africa see him as a key recruit. Mickey Arthur, the team coach, whom Fletcher accompanied to yesterday's match, said: "It's great having him here, having his knowledge around. When we signed Duncan last year for the Australian series we were also thinking of this England series.
"I think Duncan's voice in the dressing room just before a series with England is going to be brilliant."
South Africa A set off at frenetic pace with Andrew Puttick and Hashim Amla tucking voraciously into the new ball. At 59 for 0 after 10 overs a total of more than 300 looked well within striking distance. England clawed it back, however. Wright bowled accurately in the middle overs and Graham Onions, in his first match of the tour, gradually began to look the part.
Having reduced South Africa A to 206 for seven after 40 overs, England would have been disappointed to concede 73 in the next 10 as Heino Kuhn adeptly marshalled the tail. Fletcher would have been impressed.
South Africa A won toss
England beat South Africa A by 4 wkts
SOUTH AFRICA A
*H Amla c Strauss b Wright: 37
A Puttick c Bresnan b Denly: 62
R Rossouw run out (Wright): 28
H Gibbs b Wright: 24
V v Jaarsveld c Piet'n b On'ns: 26
D Elgar c Prior b Onions: 5
†H Kuhn not out: 42
R Kleinveldt lbw b Mahmood: 5
M Morkel b Bresnan: 29
C de Villiers run out (Denly): 3
L Tsotsobe not out: 5
Extras (lb 5, w 8): 13
Total (9 wkts, 50 overs): 279
Fall: 1-77, 2-122, 3-144, 4-179, 5-183, 6-197, 7-206, 8-246, 9-252.
Bowling: G Onions 9-0-46-2, T Bresnan 10-0-58-1, L Wright 10-0-48-2, S Mahmood 10-0-58-1, A Rashid 8-0-44-0, J Denly 3-0-20-1.
*A Strauss c Kuhn b de Villiers: 65
J Denly c Amla b Kleinveldt: 23
J Trott b Morkel: 78
K Pietersen c Amla b Tsotsobe: 4
E Morgan c Elgar b Kleinveldt: 21
†M Prior b de Villiers: 54
L Wright not out: 25
T Bresnan not out: 0
Extras (b 2, lb 1, w 8): 11
Total (6 wkts, 48.1 overs): 281
Fall: 1-68, 2-113, 3-132, 4-165, 5-231, 6-277.
Did Not Bat: A U Rashid, S I Mahmood, G Onions.
Bowling: L Tsotsobe 9.1-0-55-1, C de Villiers 9-0-61-2, R Kleinveldt 10-0-57-2, M Morkel 10-0-65-1, D Elgar 10-0-40-0.
Umpires: B G Jerling & M Erasmus.Reuse content