England are in a happy place. They are in form, they are glad to be on the south-west coast having had quite enough of altitude training in the highveld and, all in all, they are as chipper as end-of-pier comedians.
If the players were to begin a group rendition of "Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside where the brass bands play tiddly-om-pom-pom" it would seem perfectly natural. The mood in the camp was further lifted yesterday when it was confirmed that the fast bowler Stuart Broad, who has been out for three weeks with a shoulder injury, will return for the third one-day international tomorrow.
England have survived, nay thrived, without Broad during the early skirmishes of this tour. But they are patently more potent with him around. Should the off-spinner Graeme Swann join him – though there is less cause for optimism on that front – they begin to have the look of an authentic, well-adjusted limited-overs side to challenge all comers.
Broad first bowled in practice on Sunday and went through his paces at fuller tilt yesterday when the tourists had a middle practice at the Northerns Goodwood club ground deep in the Cape Town suburbs. Swann also bowled with some skill but he will not be rushed back from his side strain.
Speaking afterwards, Broad embodied the pervading mood which has seen England take an early lead in the series, and was persuasively buoyant. "The Ashes seems a long time ago now," he said of recent highs that many thought would mean very little once a tour of the world's No 1 cricketing nation came around. "But what happened at The Oval is something that will always give me confidence in every form of the game I play."
When he went sprawling for a ball on the outfield at Bloemfontein in the first warm-up match, it seemed not only that his tour might be over but that he might have terminally weakened the shoulder. It looked grim and began to look grimmer when specialists from both England and South Africa came up with different diagnoses, some of an extreme variety.
"In the first 24 hours after I fell on the shoulder I was feeling down in the dumps and thought I would have to come home," he admitted yesterday. We can take him at his word. At the time there was a suspicion that England were planning for the next two months without him, as Broad appeared with an arm in a sling in obvious pain.
But it has turned out to be nothing more than a temporary impingement, which prevented Broad rotating his shoulder as a fast bowler, but not many other people, would wish. "We took a decision to see how it went and there was no structural damage at all. It's had some rest and it's done wonders. I just want to be able to contribute to a great start to a tour and to help build on it now. I'm 100 per cent." Specialist shoulder doctors can get it wrong too.
Since that magical afternoon at The Oval in August when he took four Australian wickets in quick succession, finished with 5 for 37 and turned the Ashes on its head, Broad's stock has risen irresistibly. But he is not running away with the idea that he is anybody special, appearances on late-night TV chat shows notwithstanding.
"I don't think it has particularly changed my life in any way," he said. "I get recognised a little bit more and people say how much they enjoyed watching the Ashes, but that is all very nice." This was yet another example that Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss, coach and captain of England, are building a squad with their feet on the ground rather than heads in the air.
It seems that Broad, who appears to have spent his period of inactivity growing a beard, has not been doing so to avoid being recognised. Should he have been doing it for a bet, the skimpy evidence on view yesterday suggests he should be preparing to pay up shortly.
Maybe it will add to his strength. Despite their present cheeriness, England will need all they can muster at Newlands tomorrow. They have never beaten South Africa in a one-day match on the ground. Not many teams have. Of the 27 games South Africa have played there they have been defeated only three times.
The toss, whatever the captains say today, will be crucial. There have been a total of 25 day-night matches of which 20 have been won by the team batting first. Only four times have teams bowled on winning the toss and only once has it proved to be successful. South Africa have not lost at the venue since 2003 and their five consecutive victories have followed five winning tosses.
England can corroborate. In the 2003 World Cup they played Pakistan on a balmy Saturday night there. There can never have been a shorter time gap between the coin landing in favour of the England captain, Nasser Hussain, and his decision to bat.
The match was briefly notable for Nick Knight receiving the first officially clocked ball of 100mph from Shoaib Akhtar. He played it with consummate ease, pushing to mid-off and strolling a single. Later that night the game became forever etched on the memory of the 20-year-old Jimmy Anderson. Assisted by the combination of floodlights and evening moisture, Anderson swung the ball late and fast, took 4 for 29, including three of Pakistan's top four in a compelling burst. He will open the bowling with Broad tomorrow night and – if England get lucky – this pair, who are already on the verge of becoming the side's most successful bowling combination in limited-overs matches in terms of wickets taken, average and strike rate, will pose a huge threat to South Africa's record at the ground.
There is a danger, even among professional sportsmen, that the amalgam of South Africa's daunting record and the event of their batting first would have a crippling effect on the opposition. When complemented by England's consistent inconsistency in the one-day game, caution is advised.
But there is at present a jauntiness about the tourists which has, improbably, invaded their fielding and might stretch to making coins come down the right way. It makes it possible to believe that they could make the walls come tumbling down at Fortress Newlands.
Striking success: Broad's ODI record
Best bowling: 5 for 23 (v South Africa, Trent Bridge, 26 August 2008)
Strike rate 73.54
Best batting: 45 no (v India, Old Trafford, 30 August 2007)Reuse content