Samit Patel and Tim Bresnan benefited most from England's abandoned inaugural one-day international against Scotland here in Edinburgh yesterday. In reply to Scotland's workmanlike total of 156 for 9 England had reached 10 without loss when heavy rain descended, bringing a premature end to proceedings.
South Africa will supply Patel with sterner challenges in the coming weeks but the 23-year-old had a debut to remember: successfully completing a run out with his first touch in international cricket when he hit the stumps with a direct throw from midwicket to dismiss Ryan Watson, the over-eager Scotland captain. The Nottinghamshire all-rounder took a sound catch at third slip and claimed a wicket in an encouraging seven-over spell of spin bowling, too.
It is two years since Bresnan last played for England, against Sri Lanka in 2006, and the burly seamer took wickets in the second and third overs of his return. Kyle Coetzer and Navdeep Poonia were each dismissed without scoring by superb leg-cutters, edging catches to slip.
The wickets reduced the hosts to 11 for 3, and it appeared as though the biggest game in the history of Scottish cricket would end in ignominy. But a fighting and somewhat fortunate 60 by the former England Test player Gavin Hamilton ensured that Scotland were not embarrassed.
Hamilton arguably had the most inglorious Test career of any England cricketer, bagging a pair and failing to take a wicket in his sole match against South Africa in Johannesburg back in 1999. The 34-year-old never recovered from the experience, spending time with Yorkshire and Durham before moving to Scotland. Hamilton struck three sixes but was dropped twice on 24, once by James Anderson at slip and then by Luke Wright at third man. His fun ended when he became the first of Andrew Flintoff's three wickets. Anderson, Stuart Broad and Flintoff each benefited from the gentle nature of yesterday's workout gaining useful practice before the far more serious and testing cricket starts against South Africa in Durham tomorrow.
England's batting order may well alter for the Twenty20 encounter at Chester-le-Street but the way in which it lined up here suggests a change of approach. In the past England have opted to play a non-aggressive specialist opener at the top of their order. The tactic, which inhibited the chances of the team capitalising on fielding restrictions at the start of an innings, brought criticism. But now the top five places appear set to be filled with players that are capable of hitting boundaries.
Matthew Prior's return to the top of the order was expected but the promotion of Owais Shah to three, Kevin Pietersen batting at four and Flintoff coming in at five suggest England will adopt a more positive approach against South Africa.
"Owais will bat at three for the simple fact that he was wasted at seven," Pietersen said. "He is a high-scoring, quick-scoring batsman who plays good strokes to hit boundaries. Players down the order like Luke Wright, Samit Patel and Ravi Bopara are boundary-hitters yes, but Owais is a really good player who has done well for us and I want to give him the confidence of batting at three with myself at four.
"The changes do not mean that we will go out there and smash it. Intent will be there because of the way Ian Bell, Matthew Prior, Owais, myself, Freddie [Flintoff], and Paul Collingwood, when he comes back, play. We all hit boundaries through genuine cricket shots, so we don't need to talk about intent or Powerplays, we need to play decent cricket.
"The big word is responsibility. We, as top-order batsman, have to be responsible in what we do. Having Stuart Broad coming in at 10 gives us a silly batting order. It is brilliant to have him there but the danger with such a long order is that you leave the job of scoring runs to somebody else. The key is that we as top-order batsmen identify that the job of scoring runs is our responsibility. They can come in and do their stuff in the last 10 overs of an innings but it is our job to bat well in the first 40 overs."