England v South Africa, 5th ODI, Cardiff
3 overs South Africa 6 for 1 (Amla 3*, Kallis 0*) v England – Match abandoned
England’s hopes of securing a 5-0 whitewash over South Africa were denied by the Welsh rain, as the fifth and final ODI at Cardiff was abandoned after only three overs of play. England will no doubt feel frustrated in being deprived a fifth win in succession, but a scoreline of 4-0 against South Africa represents an achievement far beyond their pre-series aspirations. Not even Kevin Pietersen, their unerringly positive captain, could have foreseen England’s dominance.
South Africa, who recalled Justin Ontong in place of Vernon Philander, only had three overs in which to bat, but such is their flattened confidence that they lost Herschelle Gibbs, perhaps the only man in their current lineup capable of ratcheting them out of their slump. A neat outswinger from Stuart Broad lured him into a loose drive, and Matt Prior pulled off his second diving catch of the series, clinging on with his right hand in front of first slip. Demure – perhaps even expectant – celebrations by England were an acute reminder of just how dramatically Pietersen’s team have stolen the late-summer momentum.
And that was that. The Cardiff rain shot down from the heavens to end England’s international summer, and finally finish what has been a thoroughly dismal denouement to South Africa’s tour. Their 2-1 win in the Test series seems an awfully long time ago now, and as Jacques Kallis has admitted, their one-day tribulations – of the sort England themselves have become far too accustomed to – has scuffed the gloss of their visit. It seems inconceivable there won’t be a clear-out when the debrief takes place in Johannesburg in the next few weeks.
A disappointing day for England, but also for Wales. Today’s match was the first to be held at Cardiff’s revamped stadium, the contentious venue for the first Ashes Test next summer. Quibbles aside about its makeshift, untraditional appearance, it was mostly a shame that a full 100 overs weren’t possible in order to gauge just what sort of pitch England will face Australia on next summer.
And yet, despite the Cardiff clouds, nothing can dampen England’s mood. It was a faintly absurd notion that England were in a position to win this series 5-0. Indeed, they should have, had the rain not intervened. But 4-0 is no less loopy a result considering the hapless ODI form they have shown for so many years, and although they would have skipped into second position in the world rankings with today’s win, they nestle neatly and proudly into third.
Perplexed wonderment aside, the solution to England’s one-day woes has been relatively simple. Pietersen has coaxed Steve Harmison out of retirement and squeezed the best out of him as a second and third-change bowler. In addition, his best friend, Andrew Flintoff, has found a rich vein of batting form, carving two innings of 78 and a blistering 31 in the shortened 20-over thrash at Lord’s. Aside from the two giants, Pietersen has shown confidence in Owais Shah, whom he lofted to No.3, while Samit Patel – who played with him at Nottinghamshire – has offered runs, wickets and a calm head. All four of these players have at one time or another been described as contentious characters. Pietersen doesn’t care about their past troubles, however, and appears to be getting the very best out of them.
It was Flintoff, however, who was the difference between the two teams. Averaging 187 with the bat and 12.90 with the ball, he slowed South Africa’s innings down and accelerated England’s. Perhaps more importantly, the added responsibility of his status as the senior statesman of the side hasn’t dulled his naturally youthful instincts, unlike the burden of captaincy which surely did.
Pietersen, on the other hand, appears unsaddled by his new leadership role, though he did admit to being “knackered” prior to today’s match. If he’s tired now, one can only imagine the exhaustion he might feel when things don’t go quite so swimmingly. For now, though, a successful start to his tenure has hinted at an exciting time for England in one-day cricket, and all eyes now turn to Antigua.
– About Cricket –
Sandesh Kumar Jaggi