Statistics tossed aside by Strauss

England captain confident despite the importance of the fall of the coin at Newlands
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Almost 10 years have passed since the unthinkable happened at Newlands – Australia opted to field first in a floodlit one-day international and won.

Nobody paid much attention despite its rarity value and Adam Gilchrist's achievement in becoming the first wicketkeeper to take six catches in an innings. The match and the series in which it was played were utterly overshadowed by the sacking a week earlier of Hansie Cronje as the South Africa captain after he admitted that he had not been entirely truthful when he had denied taking money to rig matches.

In those shattering circumstances it was perhaps understandable that a shell-shocked South Africa team should plod their way to 144, eventually losing by five wickets. There has not been the like of it since.

Excluding the World Cup of 2003, which contained a series of mismatches, 10 consecutive day-night games have been won by the side batting first. It seems such a foregone conclusion that there may as well be two handshakes at the toss: one wishing your rival well, the other congratulating him on victory.

Both Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith, captains respectively of England and South Africa, made light of this precedent yesterday. Presumably, they had little option since they could hardly be heard to consign their team to inevitable defeat in the third one-day international today were the coin not to land on their preferred side.

Strauss was almost dismissive. "I'm always a little bit sceptical about those stats you see," he said. "They don't mean a huge amount in a new set of circumstances. It won't be the be-all and end-all."

Smith all but changed history. "I don't think there's as much grass [on the wicket] as there used to be," he said. "If anything it probably gets a touch slower as the game goes on but really it doesn't do that much more now, especially if the weather is good."

But Smith, who has won all nine of the matches in which he has led South Africa at Newlands, whether day or night, has won the last five day-night tosses and promptly batted first. The home side's least emphatic victory in that sequence was by 19 runs against New Zealand in 2005.

If any side can stop the run it is, astonishingly, likely to be England. Their opening victory by seven wickets on Sunday has clearly provided them with an ocean of self-belief. Conversely, South Africa, aware that they were thumped, seem a touch disheartened. "We haven't played well enough in our last two games and England have played really well," Smith said. "They have played the bigger moments better in the game."

South Africa look to be short of confidence, something confirmed by their unusual reluctance to name their team. The probability is that they will gamble on the 20-year-old left-arm fast bowler Wayne Parnell to enhance their cutting edge. But Smith insisted that any changes would be tactical and not based on form.

It is a big weekend for the home side with the fourth match in the series at Port Elizabeth on Sunday. Smith has never lost a one-day series at home and seems only too aware that this could be his time to start. "England are proving to be a formidable force," he said.

Strauss conceded he did not expect England to be quite so filled with optimism. "I have been a little bit surprised by our general consistency in the way we've batted, but at the same time I think we have got a really good bunch of players here and guys who've got a lot of room to grow and get better," he said. "When you get in a run of form the last thing you want to do is give the opposition a chance to come back."

England will come out slugging again, intending to disrupt South Africa early. They will be heartened beyond measure if they can recall both Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, which looks likely. "In the past we have been pretty good at coming back from defeats, maybe not quite so good at following up a victory with a better performance," Strauss said. He will wonder if heads or tails will give him his best shot.

Anderson to lead assault on South Africa's 'fortress'

Of course, opposing teams have won a one-day international at "Fortress Newlands" against South Africa. Australia have done it twice and West Indies once. But Australia are Australia and the West Indies did it in the World Cup, a tournament in which South Africa have been notoriously fragile.

It is not only that South Africa seem to be energised by playing on the coast, it is that captain Graeme Smith usually wins the toss and bats, lending an immediate advantage. The two occasions he did not were day games when the outcome of the toss is not so crucial – and South Africa went on to win both.

England's best hope may lie in Jimmy Anderson being able to rekindle the blaze of the 2003 World Cup, when he was irresistible against Pakistan at Newlands, the ball moving appreciably and Anderson controlling it beautifully.

Stephen Brenkley

Cape Town details: Third ODI

South Africa

G C Smith (capt), H M Amla, A B De Villiers, J-P Duminy, A N Petersen, J A Morkel, R McLaren, M V Boucher, W Parnell R E van der Merwe, D W Steyn.


A J Strauss (capt), I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, E J G Morgan, M J Prior, L J Wright, S C J Broad, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson.

Umpires: M Erasmus & R Tucker (Aus)

TV: Sky Sports 1, HD1: 12.00-21.00