As fully fledged practice for England's defence of their World Twenty20 title, the NatWest Series has not gone quite according to plan. After they were beaten out of sight in the first match, the next two have been wrecked by rain.
The third last night was at least a joyous improvement on all that had gone before. It may not mean much in assessing England's chances in the next fortnight but they will leave today in better spirits – and as the world's No 1 ranked T20 side again.
They won a reduced match by 28 runs and did it in audacious style. In the 11 overs available to them, England followed the T20 manual (abbreviated version) to perfection. Jos Buttler, unheralded and underachieving so far in his international career, made a swashbuckling, unfettered 32 not out from 10 balls. It included three sixes, one of which went high up into the ground's new £32m stand, and two fours, both played with his outrageous scoop shot.
For once, England were not undone by the ubiquitous Hashim Amla, who was on the verge of taking the tourists to another victory, as he seems to have been doing throughout the summer. But he was caught (a rarity in itself, since England have dropped him seven times) having made 36 from 27 balls and there was simply too much left for his colleagues to do.
With Craig Kieswetter being top scorer for the second time in the series and hitting 50 from 32 balls, England made an irresistible 118 for 5. It was exactly the total it took them 20 overs to make in the first match five days earlier.
Buttler, renowned on the county circuit with Somerset as a spectacular operator, was a revelation as an international short-form batsman. Given licence to do more or less as he pleased, he was stunning. He came in burdened by a previous top score of 13 in 10 matches for England. Without further ado he launched a straight six into the gods off Wayne Parnell and repeated the shot for the upper circle next ball.
There were two audacious – although for Buttler perfectly routine – scoop shots for four and in all 32 came from the 10th over, which included two no-balls and their subsequent free hits. He and Kieswetter put on 48 from 14 balls, which even by the standards of the format is motoring.
It was Kieswetter's third T20 fifty and, although his style still has glaring limitations, he is among the cleanest strikers when he manages to make contact. He again found his favourite areas, straight and long-on last night, and England can only hope that he will not be muted by slower pitches in the subcontinent.
After such excitement, England must have realised that if they kept their nerve a series-equalling victory would be theirs. They opened the bowling on a turning pitch with another of their inexperienced players, the Hampshire left-arm spinner Danny Briggs.
He did not let them down and conceding nine runs could be considered a reasonable return. He returned later in the piece to take his first international T20 wicket, though there may be formidable batsmen than Faf du Plessis in his locker in the future.
South Africa knew they had to press the accelerator from the start, which always brings risk. They duly lost wickets in the second, fourth and seventh overs. When Graeme Swann had Amla well held on the boundary by Jonny Bairstow that was more or less that. There were a few more boundaries, struck out of desperation more than optimism.
England v South Africa, Edgbaston (One Day): England beat South Africa by 28 runs; South Africa won toss
†C Kieswetter b M Morkel 50, 32 balls 3 sixes 3 fours
M J Lumb b Parnell 5, 4 balls 1 four
L J Wright c Amla b Botha 6, 10 balls
E J G Morgan c Ontong b Botha 5, 9 balls
J C Buttler not out 32, 10 balls 3 sixes 2 fours
J M Bairstow b M Morke l4, 2 balls 1 four
T T Bresnan not out 1, 1 ball
Extras (lb2 w11 nb2) 15
Total (for 5, 11 overs) 118
Fall 1-20, 2-43, 3-64, 4-112, 5-116.
Did not bat G P Swann, *S C J Broad, D R Briggs, J W Dernbach.
Bowling M Morkel 2-0-28-2, W D Parnell 2-0-37-1, J A Morkel 1-0-5-0, R J Peterson 2-0-16-0, J Botha 3-0-19-2, J H Kallis 1-0-11-0.
R E Levi b Bresnan 1, 4 balls
H M Amla c Bairstow b Swann 36, 27 balls 6 fours
F du Plessis c Morgan b Briggs 7, 6 balls 1 four
*†A B de Villiers c Bairstow b Swann 2, 3 balls
J A Morkel not out 17, 14 balls 1 six
J L Ontong c Morgan b Bresnan 10, 7 balls 1 six
J H Kallis not out 8, 5 balls
Extras (b1 lb4 w4) 9
Total (for 5, 11 overs) 90
Fall 1-9, 2-34, 3-51, 4-53, 5-69.
Did not bat: J Botha, R J Peterson, W D Parnell, M Morkel.
Bowling D R Briggs 2-0-16-1, T T Bresnan 2-0-14-2, S C J Broad 2-0-17-0, G P Swann 3-0-24-2, J W Dernbach 2-0-14-0.
Umpires R J Bailey and R K Illingworth.
Three-match series drawn 1-1