England can see daylight. Under the floodlights of Centurion Park on Friday, while Ricky Ponting was conducting his masterclass, this might have been a difficult case to argue and there is still no point in suggesting that it is more than a glint from a darkened room through a door that is barely open.
In the Champions Trophy, however, England have forged a new philosophy. For the first time in a one-day age, they have a brand of cricket which they are determined to pursue at all costs. England are to be an attacking force.
It was a policy that took them to the semi-finals of the tournament and while the truth was that this meant winning only two games, they were two victories that could not have been contemplated before either match. England surprised themselves and perhaps it will lend them the courage to pursue their new-found plan until it works in a sustained manner.
After their elimination by Australia, what England need now is a dose of the three Rs – rest, recreation and rehabilitation. If they can get some fun out of reading, writing and arithmetic, so much the better.
Overworked players like Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad need time away from the game. It was almost welcome news to hear that Collingwood had picked up a niggle in his buttock in Friday's match (Broad has a similar injury) and will need a scan on his return home today. With luck it will keep him out of the Champions League in India, where he is contracted to play. But right now, he needs the Champions League like a pain in the bottom.
The selectors will meet on Tuesday to determine the squads for the winter series against South Africa. England will return to the country on 1 November for five one-day matches and four Tests. There are unlikely to be any shocks. The days of being glued to the radio on a Sunday in September to hear which county stalwart or tyro had done enough to resume or start an international career on the winter tour have gone the way of Pick of the Pops. Shrewder (and perhaps duller) selection and central contracts have seen to that.
Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and, if he has recovered from troublesome Achilles surgery, Kevin Pietersen, will be the batsmen not in South Africa for the Champions Trophy who will return in the Test squad. There is also a case for including all of them in the one-day party, to give England a better chance of embarking into their brave new world.
The only bowler who might give the selectors pause to think hard is Stephen Harmison, who has neither central nor incremental contract, nor it sometimes seems much enthusiasm for continuing with England. But the memory of the way he bowled on the last day of the decisive Ashes Test at The Oval – like the wind once more – might just persuade the most flint-hearted selector. And Harmison, despite his well-chronicled homesickness, is a good tourist, a good bloke to have around.
The one-day series is England's first assignment and it is a form of the game on which attention will be initially concentrated, especially after their surprise but brief run in the Champions Trophy. When they turned up on Friday to play Australia in the 15th and final international match between the sides this year, there was a genuine sensation in the England squad that they could win. In the event they failed, stunningly. They were not, as their coach, Andy Flower, said yesterday, in the same ball park.
Since it failed, the attacking approach looked misguided and primitive. But if Flower and his captain Andrew Strauss have the courage of their convictions, it is the way forward. In the next year or so it will fail as often as it succeeds, perhaps more, but they will eventually have their reward.
"That's the type of game we want to play as a batting side and our batsmen have to get used to that," said Flower yesterday, barely 12 hours after the nine-wicket mauling by Australia. Batsmen looking for tips on how to play attacking cricket should have watched Ponting in awe, although they might have been too busy chasing balls to be awestruck. He has the advantage of being the best batsman in the world but the way he exercised control, never taking a risk despite scoring 111 from 115 balls, was something to which all attacking batsmen must aspire.
"It would be unrealistic to expect things to fall into place straightaway, but Strauss and I are pretty clear that we have to play that brand of cricket if we want to move forward," said Flower. "We haven't as a side had huge success in one-day international cricket for quite a long time so we want to try something different."
The killer question, of course, and one which was plainly exacerbated by the events of Friday night, was whether England have the personnel to carry out their desires. Ponting, Shane Watson – who made an unbeaten 126 – and Australia were able to play like they did because England did not make enough runs. In pursuing their attacking policy on a superb pitch, as far as they possibly could, they perished. Their strokes were bold but miscalculated.
"That we will only see once we give it a go," said Flower. "We will certainly have Pietersen coming back at some stage, which will add power to that middle order, and I think while we are trying to have a good look at how we are going to play one-day cricket, we also have to look at our selection policies and even though we would not publish exactly what our criteria is for selection, we have to be quite rigorous – or quite decisive – in what we want."
Talent counts (and it is not thick on the ground in England at present), but so does application and buying into what Flower and Strauss require. Australia might be inexperienced, having shed almost all their great players, but they have nous in spades
"I don't think it is just [a matter of] time, because if you spend time playing and you don't have a curious mind and you don't learn things then that time is wasted," said Flower. "We want people who learn and learn quickly, otherwise people aren't going to change." England are adamant they will, in every sense, waste no one-day time any longer.
Hits and Misses: Who'll be back for South Africa series?
It was his team already, for he had made it so. And now he has devised a new strategy, which might be described as attack at all costs. It could be bloody, it might claim a victim or two, it will not always succeed. But it is bold and decisive. He needs to make it work at the top of the order.
There are definite touches of fearless class here. But he is in the grip of a familiar disease: he keeps getting out when he has got in. He has an array of front-foot shots, is not afraid to dance down the wicket and is an athletic fielder and catcher to boot. Worth persevering with.
The old gum-chewing gunslinger played one innings last week out of the top drawer. It was audacious and inventive and it might have saved his career. Being told to attack may, however, be a licence to print daft strokes. A joy to watch in full flow and his imperfections make him the exciting player he is.
Unhappy at being described by this reporter as on the slide and he may have a point. He has entered wholeheartedly into the new
philosophy, hooking, clubbing over cow corner and cover driving. His bowling remains vital in certain conditions. The return of Kevin Pietersen will revitalise him further. Needs rest.
An extremely exciting batsman with flexible wrists and a bravura spirit. Perhaps a word of caution should be offered about the manner in which he goes about his business since he seems too early into the fancy stuff, but he knows how to disrupt a field all right and there are runs aplenty. Distinguished himself by taking the gloves in the absence of the regular wicketkeeper, Matt Prior.
Has definite authority as a player but he knows he has under-achieved as a limited-overs batsman. Impossible to offer definitive verdict after this tournament because he fell victim to a virus after one match. Plenty to do.
An important period is coming up in his career, when he must take a step up. He is good at all three disciplines but is he quite good enough at international level? Wholehearted in all he does, needs more dynamism with the ball and greater versatility with the bat if he is to prosper.
May come back but must have time in wilderness to iron out blemishes. England must remember to give him some tender loving care.
His body is beginning to feel the toll of being such an important cog in all forms of the game. Injuries here are leading to injuries there and soon it will be everywhere. But he bowls some compelling spells and is a crucial part of this England going forward. Needs acute looking after.
Sometimes, either through lack of concentration or carelessness, he will bowl a half-tracker or a full toss. When settled, he is a mean, mature performer who needs to find ways to take more wickets regularly.
Central contractee who needs to start taking wickets again.
Marvellous in so many ways, but does not quite take the vital wicket as often as his captain might wish. Still reliant on swing but he is still improving and is to be watched. Definitely tired.
Wicket to wicket bowler, who needs to strike early – and did so twice. Surprisingly easy to get after but an authentic bowler.
Still not entirely trusted by the selectors but has shown that he is developing. Either they keep him and give him a chance or jettison him with a view to returning next year.
Despite the issue of Twittering, he played a calm innings under pressure in the semi-final. Sound temperament, but doubts remain about top-level authenticity.
One match, smashing county figures – hardly breathing down anybody's neck.
Stephen BrenkleyReuse content