England are clearly not to be trusted in the absence of their coach. No sooner had Andy Flower gone to spend some time with his family than his charges turned in the most feckless of batting exhibitions yesterday.
It ensured they lost the fifth one-day international against South Africa in the NatWest Series, which left matters level at 2-2. There were 93 balls left when South Africa crossed the line by seven wickets, led there by Hashim Amla, man of the series, man of the summer. He made an unbeaten 97 from 107 balls, managing the recovery after South Africa began to make a mess of the chase.
But it was never the most challenging of missions. England's miscreant behaviour was that of teenagers who are entrusted by their parents to mind the house and immediately have a party which leaves the place trashed. Flower can barely have finished the school return run when England's innings was trashed largely by their own hand.
A total of around 280 on a trustworthy pitch under benevolent late summer sunshine would have been competitive; one of 300 should have been eminently possible. England managed 182 all out in 45.2 overs, producing a litany of careless strokes.
The tourists gratefully accepted what came their way and the measure of their dominance was embodied by the shape of their fifth bowler, actually composed of three part-time practitioners, who yielded only 39 runs in their combined 10 overs. For most of the series the first-innings batting of both sides has been poor, perhaps affected by the use of two new balls from the start of the innings under the new ICC regulations.
But that alone did not explain England's failings last night. South Africa could hardly fail to chase down the target, although they had a wretched start that demonstrated their batting frailties in losing three wickets for 14. But Amla then took control yet again. Few players have had such a constant impact on a tour of England and there are still the Twenty20 matches to come. He has made a total of 817 runs at 116.71 (335 in the one-dayers) in internationals this summer.
All Amla needed to do last night was caress his team to victory. And this time, for once, England did not drop him since he hardly made a mistake. He was accompanied in an unbroken fourth-wicket partnership of 172 by the tourists' captain, A B De Villiers, making his first international fifty of the tour. It was a case of the senior men allaying worry, being perfectly clear-eyed about their objective.
Although South Africa deserved their win, it has been a dull old series. Not all one-day matches need to be close to make the format enthralling but it does not half help if some go to the wire.
There was no suspicion of what was to come when Alastair Cook and Ian Bell began assertively for England, each striking boundaries to ease into the twenties by the fourth over. At that stage it seemed that they would meet the requirements of the pitch. But the place was too soon littered with inexplicable lapses. Bell started the rot by propping forward to his 11th ball and somehow missing it. If that was a mystery so was his decision to use England's only referral to review the decision. The ball was cannoning into the leg stump.
De Villiers' decision to open with Peterson's slow stuff was a sound ploy. It meant not only that Bell had no pace to work with early on but also brought the keeper up to the stumps so that the batsman could not charge down the pitch as Bell has been wont to do since he resumed opening the innings.
Three balls later England were two down, the hapless Ravi Bopara poking at a ball from the excellent Dale Steyn outside the off-stump. Bopara was promoted to No 3 in the order in place of the injured Jonathan Trott, whose injured hand will keep him out for the rest of the season. Yet Bopara's form is so obviously poor that it was a huge gamble destined to fail. It did not prevent England launching a partial recovery. Cook and Jonny Bairstow played neatly and confidently.
But Bairstow flicked to deep mid-wicket to end the stand on 55 and when Eoin Morgan holed out second ball it was Cook or nothing. It was the latter as Cook tamely chipped back Faf du Plessis's second ball of the series, a low full toss.
Although Chris Woakes, replacing Steve Finn, played sensibly no one else did. England had already ensured they could not lose the series by winning at Lord's on Sunday and will retain their mysterious No 1 spot in the ICC world rankings until January at least. This performance made the bestowal of that status more befuddling. Flower may never dare leave his charges alone again.
Trent Bridge scoreboard
Fifth One-Day International, Trent Bridge: South Africa beat England by seven wickets; England won toss
*A N Cook c & b du Plessis 51/0/6/72/108
I R Bell lbw b Peterson 10/0/2/11/15
R S Bopara c de Villiers b Steyn 0/0/0/2/0
J M Bairstow c Ontong b Morkel 29/0/4/52/61
E J G Morgan c Amla b Duminy 0/0/0/2/0
†C Kieswetter c Amla b Morkel 33/0/3/53/74
S R Patel c de Villiers b Steyn 9/0/1/13/22
C R Woakes not out 33/0/3/44/63
J C Tredwell b Peterson 6/0/0/19/21
J M Anderson c Morkel b Peterson 0/0/0/1/0
J W Dernbach c de Villiers b Parnell 2/0/0/6/8
Extras (lb3 w3 nb3) 9
Total (45.2 overs) 182
Fall 1-23, 2-24, 3-79, 4-82, 5-99, 6-124, 7-156, 8-175, 9-175.
Bowling D W Steyn 9-2-24-2, R J Peterson 10-0-37-3, M Morkel 8-0-41-2, W D Parnell 8.2-0-38-1, D Elgar 4-0-20-0, J P Duminy 4-0-11-1, F du Plessis 2-0-8-1.
H M Amla not out 97/1/9/107/123
G C Smith c Tredwell b Dernbach 1/0/0/6/0
F du Plessis c Kieswetter b Anderson 3/0/0/5/3
D Elgar c Kieswetter b Anderson 1/0/0/10/1
*†A B de Villiers not out 75/0/10/79/115
Extras (lb1 w8) 9
Total (for 3, 34.3 overs) 186
Fall 1-8, 2-11, 3-14.
Did not bat J P Duminy, W D Parnell, J L Ontong, R J Peterson, D W Steyn, M Morkel.
Bowling J M Anderson 9-2-41-2, J W Dernbach 7.3-0-56-1, C R Woakes 6-0-35-0, J C Tredwell 6-0-30-0, S R Patel 2-0-11-0, R S Bopara 4-0-12-0.
Umpires H D P K Dharmasena (S Lanka) and R K Illingworth.
Five-match series was drawn 2-2.
Series in figures
23 Number of boundaries hit by Ian Bell in the series.
181 Runs by Ian Bell, the most for an Englishman.
5.50 Ravi Bopara's batting average for the series, hitting 22 runs.
51 Captain Alastair Cook's highest score of the series.