Rain helps England to break one-day drought
Weather plays key role to give tourists first 50-over series win in South Africa
England did not have to bowl a ball or play a shot to make history yesterday. Rain here – as perpetual as it was predictable – ensured that they secured their first one-day series win in South Africa.
It did not seem much in the gloom that has pervaded the country's second city for a week and in all truth was probably being overshadowed by events in the first. A lap of honour around Kingsmead, trophy held aloft by the tourists' captain Andrew Strauss being carried on the shoulders of his team-mates, was neither called for nor conducted.
But the victory by two matches to one may come to be seen as a significant turning point in the affairs of this England limited-overs team. If it was a result that had a little assistance from the weather because two of the five matches, the first and the fifth, were abandoned, it owed much more to the help they gave themselves.
It was achieved with a purposefulness and brio which indicated a different brand of one-day cricket than that purveyed for too long by England teams. They stayed true to their intention of taking the game to the opposition and if that can make them vulnerable – as demonstrated by the defeat in the third match in Cape Town – the wins in Centurion and Port Elizabeth amply demonstrated that it was a policy worth pursuing.
Nobody could have anticipated this. Not when England were being routed by India 5-0 a year ago and looked as though they would never win a one-day match again, so hapless were they made to appear. Not when, as recently as last September, Australia were dictating proceedings in England so easily that they won the first six matches of a seven-match series.
In between there had been wins in two series, home and away, against West Indies, but while the first of those in the Caribbean was welcome simply because it provided relief in a cataclysmic winter, all concerned recognised that the enduring fragility of the opposition might have contributed. It was after the Australian débâcle that the team management realised that changes had to be enforced.
This meant that some players were dropped – Owais Shah, for one, had to go, almost certainly never to return – but overwhelmingly it demanded a change of approach. It was first evident, astonishingly, in the Champions Trophy in South Africa in October, when some team claiming to be England came out slugging and shocked two of the tournament favourites, Sri Lanka and the host country.
England, suddenly, were prepared to take games by the scruff. The old diffidence and uncertainty, which often made it appear as though they thought the one-day game was second rate, were banished. There was a bitter irony to the fact that the initial charge was led by Shah, whose 98 from 89 balls shattered South Africa.
Shah departed when the team for the South Africa tour was announced but the policy was here to stay. Strauss (left, with trophy) himself has been one of its chief architects and has taken it upon himself to make sure it has worked.
He has been unrecognisable at the top of the order from the player who appeared in more than 80 one-day games for England only to be dropped in 2007. Circumstances created by the imbroglio over Kevin Pietersen's captaincy necessitated his recall and now here he is, reinvented.
Strauss has been short of runs lately but that has not stopped him attempting to pepper the boundary. He has been seen in this series advancing down the pitch to Dale Steyn, one of the world's fastest bowlers, and being quite prepared to fashion unusual shots by moving outside his stumps. If it has been most un-Strauss like, it has been a splendid example of leading from the front.
By circumstance rather than design, he has found a new opening partner in Jonathan Trott whose determined application has made him seem a natural international cricketer. Paul Collingwood appears to have gained a fresh lease of life and in Eoin Morgan, England have unearthed, or rather poached from Ireland, a fearless innovator who will never perish wondering.
The fielding has improved beyond measure, a squad of near athletes darting this way and that has replaced a team who thought diving was the preserve of Tom Daley. But there must still be doubts about the strength in depth of the squad.
From time to time the bowlers must be rotated but Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have become an authentic new-ball pairing. Tim Bresnan has been a revelation – far removed from the player who looked so short of the necessary quality when he first played in 2006 – and it may be that he is doing more than keeping Andrew Flintoff's seat warm. Flintoff indeed still has to prove his fitness.
The side seem at ease with themselves in a way that South Africa did not. It has been seven years since they lost a one-day series at home and they can never have appeared quite so apprehensive in all the years they have been playing one-day cricket.
It was an unsatisfactory conclusion yesterday and England, as Strauss is at pains to suggest, are far from the finished article. But they are a work in progress towards the World Cup in 2011 and it is a long time since that could be said.
Winners and Losers How England's team has changed
In they come
One-day career resurrected when he assumed captaincy and has helped design a strategy for the team aimed at winning World Cup.
Irishman can take breath away and is armed with an array of innovative shots to match anybody.
Unrecognisable from debut in 2006, he appears to know his game and what he wants to do. Plenty of room for improvement yet.
Might have made the side as opener, but rigorous self-discipline amid scepticism about his right to a place has been almost unnerving.
Out they go
Was a victim of the management's determination that players can carry out at least two of three main cricketing elements.
His game imploded last summer and it is a long way back for a man whose fielding is also short of the necessary virtues.
Has been consigned back to the ranks partly because he is a one-dimensional player and his Test status is in potential jeopardy too.
He has been a casualty of the determination to have a squad where fitness is a crucial tenet.
*England's ODI results since the Mumbai attacks forced them to leave India when 5-0 down in the series.
England won in West Indies 3-2
England beat West Indies 2-0
England beat Ireland 1-0
England lost to Australia 6-1
England lost in semi-finals of Champions Trophy
England won in South Africa 2-1
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