With Test and one-day cricket already sorted Kevin Pietersen's England turned their minds to virtual Twenty20 cricket yesterday at a dank and miserable Lord's, and yes, you guessed it, they came up trumps.
It has to be said that rain and England's Duckworth/Lewis adjusted target disadvantaged South Africa but, even so, Pietersen's side were worthy seven-wicket winners. The triumph takes England into a 4-0 lead in the five-match NatWest Series and puts them on the verge of a rare whitewash.
With the light fading, Andrew Flintoff took England past South Africa's modified total of 137 in 20 overs with 14 balls of the match remaining, hitting a swashbuckling 31 off just 12 balls. The innings completed another fine all-round display by Flintoff who, with 3 for 21 in seven overs, had been England's best bowler during South Africa's rain-interrupted 32-over and one-ball innings of 183 for 6.
His performance was all the more heroic for being produced with a sore back. "It was a bit of a spasm, but nothing serious," said Flintoff, who underwent a fitness test before the match. "It was caused by a soft hotel bed, which I spent 11 hours in the previous night. But having not played at Lord's for so long I wasn't going to let it affect anything. Whenever you play at Lord's there is not such thing as a dead game."
The input of Owais Shah, 44 not out, and Pietersen, 40, should not be overlooked – they were of equal importance. It was their 74-run partnership that initially steadied England, after the early loss of Matthew Prior and Ian Bell, and then kicked the hosts into action when the required run rate was rising and the game seemed to be slipping away.
The nature of England's run chase changed in the 11th over of their reply. Jacques Kallis has dismissed Pietersen on many occasions this summer, but the England captain gained some sort of revenge when he slapped him for three consecutive fours in an over. Shah completed the 20-run mauling, hacking the final ball of the over into the old Lord's Tavern for six.
The over took England from 53 for 2 to 73 for 2, leaving them requiring just 64 runs in the final nine overs – a simple assignment in a 20-over game. Pietersen failed to see England home, slogging Johan Botha to deep midwicket the ball after he had hit for a huge six, but it was he who provided England's batting with momentum when it was needed.
A capacity crowd lapped up the fare, revelling in the power of England's strokeplay. Most stayed to the end, loyally sitting through several hours of awful weather. They fully deserved the finish Flintoff, Pietersen and Shah delivered.
In the field England, in comparison to their previous displays in the NatWest Series, were slightly below par. But on a horrible day and with the series already won it was probably inevitable. South Africa have been suffering from the same virus, only worse, since securing their Test series win a month ago.
A fine 74 from Herschelle Gibbs dominated South Africa's innings, which because of morning rain had been reduced to 39 overs. In Test cricket Gibbs is currently deemed surplus but his strokeplay here highlighted what a magnificent batsman he still is, and his 66-run opening in partnership with the equally adventurous Hashim Amla gave the ailing tourists a much-needed confidence boost.
James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Stephen Harmison were each dispatched to the boundary whenever they erred, which for Pietersen, the demanding captain, would have been far too often.
Gibbs has a wonderful eye and hands, gifts that allow him to hit the ball hard with the minimum of fuss. He is equally proficient on front and back foot, as Anderson found when he was pulled and driven for four.
A second rain interruption reduced the game to 33 overs per side but the introduction of Harmison failed to check the run rate. On this occasion it was Amla who cut loose, smashing England's spearhead through the off side on four occasions in an over.
The batting of the pair was beginning to test Pietersen's captaincy skills before Shah produced either an inspired or extremely fortunate piece of fielding to dismiss Amla. Only Shah will know which set of stumps he was aiming at when he swooped to pick up a Gibbs straight drive at mid on and threw the ball down the pitch. Amla was slow to react to Gibbs' call and the hesitation resulted in him helplessly watching Shah's throw miss the stumps at the bowler's end, go past him and hit the other set of stumps.
Jacques Kallis's miserable tour continued when he was adjudged to have edged a drive at a wide ball from Flintoff, but the two wickets failed to affect Gibbs, who continued to score freely, reaching 50 off the 46th ball he faced. A B de Villiers never settled, especially against Flintoff, who was given excellent support by Samit Patel.
Gibbs' fine display ended when he was bowled off his pads while trying to flick Broad over fine leg. With him went South Africa's chance of posting a match-winning total.
England won toss
H H Gibbs b Broad......... 74
H M Amla run out......... 34
*J H Kallis c Prior b Flintoff......... 1
A B de Villiers c Flintoff b Patel......... 14
J P Duminy c Bell b Flintoff......... 20
†M V Boucher not out......... 10
V D Philander c Anderson b Flintoff......... 10
J Botha not out......... 2
Extras (lb11 w7)......... 18
Total (for 6, 32.1 overs)......... 183
Fall: 1-66 2-75 3-113 4-155 5-158 6-179.
Did not bat: A Nel, M Morkel, D W Steyn.
Bowling: Anderson 3-0-23-0; Broad 6.1-0-33-1; S J Harmison 4-0-35-0; Flintoff 7-1-21-3; Patel 7-0-34-1; Collingwood 5-0-26-0.
I R Bell c Boucher b M Morkel......... 13
†M J Prior c Boucher b Steyn......... 0
O A Shah not out......... 43
*K P Pietersen c Amla b J Botha......... 40
A Flintoff not out......... 31
Extras (b2 lb1 w7)......... 10
Total (for 3, 17.4 overs)......... 137
Fall: 1-7 2-19 3-93.
Did not bat: P D Collingwood, S R Patel, L J Wright, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, S J Harmison.
Bowling: Steyn 3-0-17-1; Nel 2.4-0-11-0; M Morkel 4-0-31-1; Philander 4-0-30-0; Kallis 1-0-20-0; J Botha 3-0-25-1.
England won by seven wickets (Duckworth/Lewis method).
Umpires: M R Benson (Eng) and S J A Taufel (Aus).