Any illusions that England's refashioned one-day side would take time to settle in were brutally dismantled yesterday - along with South Africa. The trouble now might be curbing expectations after the astonishing, one-sided, seven-wicket victory in the NatWest Series final.
Victory moves England from seventh to third place in the one-day international table, their highest placing. For a team who were recently eliminated from the World Cup in the first phase this might be a tad high, but previous results based on two years' of matches seemingly do not lie. Only Australia and, somewhat perversely, South Africa, are now above them.
The final lasted for only 52.3 overs in all. South Africa used up 32.1 one of them, in which they were dismissed on a splendid pitch for a meagre 107. This was about 150 short of what they would have hoped for and England achieved their target with almost 30 overs in hand. Vikram Solanki was the top scorer with a rapid and typically improvised half-century, but the man of the match was Darren Gough, for an attacking spell at the start of the day.
Such an unexpected - but strangely not anti-climactic victory - was bound to stir thoughts of what might lie ahead for England. Their one-day captain, Michael Vaughan, was not slow to stoke such fires. "It's wonderful to have performed like that in front of 30,000 people when the pressure was on," he said. "We fully expect to beat South Africa in the Test series."
Duncan Fletcher, the coach, rightly praised Vaughan. "He's had 10 lieutenants out there, which has helped, but he's still had to go away and make the decisions. Mostly, he's got them right."
Vaughan was quick to emphasise that England are still a young team lacking experience. With an average age of just above 25 in the NatWest squad this summer, the claim is true, but the key player yesterday was an older warrior. Gough's incessantly probing spell undermined South Africa, who had neither the patience nor the wit to resist. In the pro's parlance, Gough consistently put the ball in the right areas. He bowled seven overs at the top of South Africa's innings for only nine runs and, crucially, was rewarded with two wickets. They were the tourists' big guns, Herschelle Gibbs, whose struggles continue, and Jacques Kallis, who did not add to the 329 runs he had already scored during the tournament.
With James Anderson also taking two early wickets - although he was more expensive - England had the start they wanted. They needed it too after Vaughan chose to field on winning the toss under a cloudless sky.
"I just felt that was our best chance of winning the match," he said. "We have done well in chasing down totals this season and at Lord's the white ball does do a bit early. Our intention was to put them under pressure and get a couple of early wickets. We bowled the right lines and the ball kept taking the edge." Chris Read, the wicketkeeper, took five catches, most of them straightforward, but one a full- length dive to his right to dismiss the dangerous Kallis.
"A lot of the matches have been won by the side batting second," said Vaughan. "I can't quite explain it, maybe it's something to do with sides setting out trying to get 270 when maybe they should settle for 225 in English conditions."
England's intention is to become the best side in the world by 2007, the next time the World Cup is held. This seems at least possible now, if far from probable. The team are relaxed under Vaughan. When the spectators indulged in a Mexican wave as England cruised to victory, the players on the dressing-room balcony joined in.