Ian Bell books top spot for England but Alistair Cook fails to end bad run with bat

England 224-4  South Africa 220-8 (England win by by six wickets )

Nothing will entirely compensate England for the cataclysmic events of this season. There have been too many losses for that: the Test series and their world No 1 ranking to South Africa, their Test captain and accepted leader, Andrew Strauss, and, possibly for all time, their star attraction, Kevin Pietersen.

In those circumstances victory in the NatWest Series might not seem much. But by taking a 2-1 lead in winning the fourth one-day international against South Africa here today by six wickets they have demonstrated great strength of will. It should not be forgotten that when the tourists prevailed by 80 runs in the first completed contest, only six days ago, England looked dead and buried.

South Africa now have abundant problems of their own, suddenly looking weak in several batting areas and missing Jacques Kallis like the durable, solid, world-class one-off he is. If England can win the final match at Trent Bridge on Wednesday they can consider this a job well done. They are already assured now of being the world's top-ranked one-day side – according, at any rate, to the ICC's method of calculation – until the new year, when they must play India.

There was nothing especially thrilling about this, their 12th ODI win in 14 matches this year. The skies over Lord's were too gloomy for that, the bowlers all too often in with a chance. But they were hurried home with 20 balls to spare by the resident buccaneer, Eoin Morgan, who made batting look a different proposition from anybody else by scoring 36 from 36 balls.

The winning runs came from Craig Kieswetter who struck Dale Steyn for six over long-off. There are not many of those to the pound. England always looked the more likely victors after a second-wicket partnership of 141 between Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott.

This was essential after the early departure of the captain, Alastair Cook, who is having a lean run. No cause for alarm yet, but since his hundred in the first Test at The Oval Cook has scored 110 runs in nine international innings. And this is before we know if the responsibility of leading both Test and one-day teams will affect him.

Bell made an 88 which was notable for the manner in which it petered out. He played himself in calmly, then worked the percentages adroitly with the usual quota of unfeasibly handsome shots.

But he ran out of steam and ideas, and when he was out trying desperately to take on Steyn, England briefly wondered if they had too much to do. Morgan ensured they did not.

Trott batted for most of his innings in severe discomfort after being hit on the right hand by a 90mph fizzer from Steyn, whose opening spell of four overs was as hostile as they come: fast, ferocious and mean. In this mood, you would not want to meet Steyn in a dark alley.

For most of his innings, Trott had to take his right hand off the bat to play a forcing shot. But he had made up his mind early that he was not going to leave the field and ultimately it proved the correct decision.

He will have an X-ray to determine the extent of any damage but it may be that it gives England the opportunity to respond to the clarion calls for Jonny Bairstow's inclusion. Such is modern sport: Bairstow, perhaps understandably, has become flavour of the month.

It had been another superb bowling performance by England. The cloud cover made their job easier but there was a purpose and precision to their work which ensured that scoring runs was never straightforward.

Had it not been for a belated flurry, with 42 coming from the last five overs, at odds with what had gone before, South Africa's total would have been far from competitive despite the difficulties. As it was, anything above 200, ensured by some brash strokeplay from the unlikely quarter of Robin Peterson, kept them firmly in the game.

If England's fielding had matched their bowling the target might have been lower still. But throughout the summer their catching has been worryingly poor. The culprit yesterday was James Tredwell, who put down Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith at slip.

He should have held both, the first a comfortable take straight to him at shoulder height, the second also straight to him, although he might have been affected by wicketkeeper Kieswetter's dive.

It was the sixth time that Amla has been dropped by England this summer and the cost so far has been 539 runs. They could thank their lucky stars that he was out for 45 yesterday, adding a mere 41 after his escape. No man was more relieved than Tredwell when Ravi Bopara bowled Amla with one that the batsman played round as it came down the slope. Indeed, that dismissal might have helped clear his mind to produce a sterling piece of off-break bowling from the Nursery End.

Tredwell turned the ball, found his length and saw the batsmen coming. His reward was three wickets, all stumpings and all smart work by Kieswetter. No wicketkeeper had ever before had three stumpings in the 585 ODIs previously played by England. This did not fully redeem Tredwell for his fielding lapses, though it will have made him feel a whole lot better about himself.

It was only the latest example of a wider malaise afflicting England. They are simply dropping too many catches and have done throughout this year. But they are also on the verge of beating South Africa.

 

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