Pietersen's dazzling batting displays only mask England faults

The judgements after England's 4-1 defeat were swift, decisive and unsparing. There was obviously nothing else for it in the face of such an overwhelming loss to South Africa in the one-day series.

Michael Vaughan, the captain, went first. "You look at the way we were playing early last summer to where we are now and there are a lot of positives," he said. "We have moved on a hell of a lot. Put Freddie Flintoff back into our team and I'm very positive about the future of our one-day game."

Then came the coach, Duncan Fletcher. "We've learned more than on any other one-day tour. Every game barring one went down to the wire, there was some entertaining cricket. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Flintoff had played and their top all-rounders, Shaun Pollock or Jacques Kallis, had been out in the first three matches. We could have been 3-0 up."

Hold on, lads. The team have just been soundly beaten. Sure, some of the matches reached the final overs before a definite winner emerged but the biggest skill in one-day cricket is winning the close ones. England lost three of them and tied the other.

It is one thing to say that everything has come up roses, but another to airbrush the manure heap out of the big picture. Flintoff, who missed the one-day leg of the tour to have surgery on his ankle, is clearly viewed as a panacea.

There are good reasons for this but the danger is that England miss him so much that the rest of their game suffers accordingly. That must have been the case here because, as Fletcher was candid enough to concede, the top four batsmen all failed, mustering just two fifties between them in seven games, and the bowlers twice failed to defend big totals.

The two biggest assets to England have been the two new best buddies, Kevin Pietersen and Darren Gough. They have usually been together, they have usually had bizarre haircuts and they have invariably played outstandingly.

Pietersen's form, for an international novice, has defied belief. Only David Gower and Graeme Hick among England batsmen have scored three hundreds in a single one-day series before and they were not only much more experienced but were playing in triangular tournaments with many more matches.

As Fletcher acknowledged, he will be mighty hard to leave out of the Test team now. "For an individual to bat like that, you can't ignore him, he's got to come into the equation. He took on the South African crowd, he took on everyone. This is a boy who likes a contest. The key to it is that he's thinking things out, where you can hit it and how you can hit it there, that's the classic thing."

Given the way of things, the sense of expectation will now be huge every single time Pietersen goes to the crease. He may thrive on it.

Perhaps Pietersen's presence and friendship have helped to inspire Gough, who is at the other end of his career. He missed the last match with a virus and England missed him. He was on song throughout, his line was rigorous and his variations impeccable. He has shown a few critics a thing or two here.

Fletcher was making no wild claims about Gough's place in the World Cup in two years, not with that knee of his. But he could barely contain his excitement - and Fletcher is not an excitable man - when he said: "Gough bowled like he did a few years ago." Not quite, for the pace is reduced now.

Pietersen apart, the batting was ordinary. England have also got themselves into a pickle over the batting order. It might have been worth boldly experimenting with Geraint Jones (the new Adam Gilchrist!) as an unorthodox opener but it should be discontinued.

First, England have a big shotmaker as opener in Marcus Trescothick, who admittedly had a poor series. Secondly, they also have other openers in the squad. Thirdly, Jones is a biffing No 7, a position which can be of overriding importance late in a one-day innings. Fourthly, he has enough problems getting his wicketkeeping right without the onerous task of opening the batting. This one move altered the balance of the side. Fletcher did not seem to be for turning. "He showed enough to make us not throw that plan out of the door."

Jones was not helped by the form of others. Poor Trescothick always seems to run out of steam towards the end of tours and 99 runs in seven innings was not a fair return for his talents. Andrew Strauss, too, got out when he should not have done: it cannot be a coincidence that these two both rose to the heights in the Test series and may have had little left to give. Vaughan, bizarrely, remains vulnerable as a one-day player.

The bowling lacked not only Flintoff but also, effectively, Stephen Harmison and James Anderson. Harmison played two matches but was out of sorts and ready for home, and Anderson was not risked after going round the park in the warm-up match in Kimberley. For England truly to be optimistic they could do with both.

Anderson needs to bowl as soon as the season starts. The lack of competitive overs may be at the root of his loss of form and consequent loss of confidence. He has looked so youthfully forlorn here that there have been times when you just wanted to give him an avuncular pat and assure him everything would be all right.

There were other, less sung English attributes. Kabir Ali came on hugely, almost by accident since he was not earmarked for the original side. His late-order hitting was as significant as his maturing bowling.

Paul Collingwood bowled more overs in England's one-day winter than all but one bowler. That was the inestimable Ashley Giles, who almost by stealth, has become an irreplaceable cricketer. Not irreplaceable like a Flintoff but somebody you want there all the time. He usually is.

One more thing. Seven matches in 15 days is a ridiculous schedule. It must be stopped, otherwise everybody's future is bleak.

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Travel
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect