England, inventors of Twenty20, devised a brilliant new strategy for the inaugural world championship last night. Unfortunately for them, the rest of their cricket was neither as innovative nor as inspired – actually it was at times downright hapless – and they lost the crucial Super8 match against South Africa here in Cape Town.
If England insist on taking positives from the performance, and they invariably do, they could reflect that the 19-run defeat represented a slightly less overwhelming margin than that between the countries in the Rugby World Cup.
In changing his bowlers 15 times during South Africa's innings, the England captain Paul Collingwood clearly nonplussed their batsmen. A new bowler five times took a wicket with the first ball of an over. It was bold and it demonstrated that England are giving proper thought to this apparently wham-bam form of the game. Yet it came to nought. Perhaps they might have settled for restricting South Africa to 154 at the start of the innings. But the chase was still crucially undermined because they dropped or failed to go for seven chances in the field and conceded 50 runs in the last four overs.
The England innings never possessed what passed for cricketers' modern necessity, momentum. While there were times when they were up with South Africa's score at similar stages it also meant they had to launch a similarly spectacular finale and that was beyond them.
It did not help that they lost Kevin Pietersen in bizarre circumstances. It had to be Pietersen. In turning a ball to short fine leg he set off for a single but wasted time watching fielder and ball before realising that the ball was being propelled at pace by Makhaya Ntini to his end.
Pietersen then found Shaun Pollock between him and the crease and fell over him while dropping his bat. While he was past the crease he was also in the air which meant the third umpire had no alternative but to send him on his way.
Their bold but misguided selectorial ploy of picking domestic Twenty20 specialists lay in tatters as, soon, probably will their hopes of progress in this competition. There is a huge difference between success in a county contest and a world championship and maybe they should have known this.
Three of their hunches, men who had previously played for England and not played for years have found the going too tough. Darren Maddy was dropped for last night's match after failing to make his mark in the first two matches as was James Kirtley, whose sole over in the competition cost 17 runs. Jeremy Snape was brought in and he too bowled one over, costing 12, while his batting was pitiable. Luke Wright has scored three runs while facing 11 balls in three World Twenty20 innings.
Why he was sent in before Dimitri Mascarenhas, a proven big hitter who had struck five sixes in an over barely a fortnight ago was a mystery. England are thinking carefully in some areas and not thinking at all in others.
South Africa are one-dimensional side, full of all-rounders who do not easily stir the pulse, but they are also efficient. With the ball moving around they did not manage the required start as England bowled accurately and the bowlers responded well to the quickfire changes. For much of the innings it allowed England to dictate terms.
Earlier here yesterday, Brett Lee claimed the first international Twenty20 hat-trick to help to restrict Bangladesh to 123 for 8 before Matthew Hayden powered Australia to a nine-wicket victory in their Group F match. Lee tore the middle order apart in the 17th over. He had Shakab al Hasan caught by Adam Gilchrist for 16, bowled Mashrafe Mortaza and then trapped Alok Kapali leg before for first-ball ducks.
Hayden, who finished unbeaten on 73 from 48 balls, added 104 with Adam Gilchrist to confirm a decisive victory.