England v South Africa, 3rd NatWest ODI, The Oval August 31, 2012

England show long-term promise

Focus may fall on the No. 1 ranking changing hands again but both sides are looking further down the road

Like Idi Amin declaring himself the winner of a general election, so England's return to the top of the ODI rankings should be viewed with a certain cynicism.

While any victory over a decent South Africa side is to be praised, particularly a victory that showed such an improvement on the dismal performance in Southampton, the ranking flatters and misleads. England have a long way to go as an ODI side.

In truth, this ODI series - like so many - is about building for the future. ODI teams are not judged on rankings, particularly ones that appear quite so arbitrary. No, ODI teams are judged on trophies. Global trophies, at that: World Cups and, to a lesser extent, the Champions Trophy. Whatever happens in the next week or so, whichever team wins this series, few will remember by the time the 2015 World Cup comes along.

But England can take encouragement from this performance. As both these teams build for the future, they are developing new players and testing their bench strength. For that reason, a strong argument could be made to suggest that England have the better prospects ahead of next year's Champions Trophy, which is to be played in the UK.

In this game, South Africa looked a batsman light. With Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers all, for once, departing to somewhat loose strokes, a thin-looking middle order was exposed. While the jury remains out on Dean Elgar - it is bound to take him some time to settle at international level - Faf du Plessis and Wayne Parnell, at No. 5 and No. 7 respectively, both look at least a place too high in the order.

While many of South Africa's problems would be resolved in a stroke by the return of Jacques Kallis - he strengthens the batting, the bowling and the fielding - he is now 36. Even though he harbours ambitions to play in the 2015 World Cup, South Africa do need to start to look to the future. Replacing him will prove desperately difficult.

"We didn't play good cricket at all," de Villiers said afterwards. "Most of our senior players got in and didn't make it count. Including me. I was seeing it really well, but played a poor shot at a very bad time. It is those things that cost you the game.

"We were about 40 runs short. It was the experienced players at fault. We were hoping for 250 at least and hopefully aim for 270. That would have been a winning score. Complacency wasn't an issue. I wouldn't allow that as a captain. We just didn't play well at all."

The performance of Wayne Parnell, who bowled with controlled pace, should provide some encouragement for South Africa. After a few bumps on the road, the 23-year-old looks to be developing into the top-class performer his talent first suggested.

England, meanwhile, went into this game without three men who might be considered first-choice selections: Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen. While there is no certainty about the future of any of them, there is growing hope that all should be around in 2013 and 2015. Swann does not require an elbow operation, while Pietersen will meet with ECB officials in the very near future to thrash out their difficulties. A sincere, unqualified apology made face-to-face with colleagues in the squad and the management set-up would take him a long way along the path to rehabilitation. If he really wants to return, it is the option he must take.

"Jonathan Trott may well be the most reassuring batsmen England have had since the retirement of Graham Gooch"

The pleasing thing about this display from an England perspective was that their stand-ins performed so impressively. James Tredwell, bowling with flight and dip that Swann has struggled to find of late, hardly delivered a poor ball, while Jade Dernbach utilised his variations far more judiciously than has sometimes been the case. It hints at a growing maturity. The lovely slower ball, all the more effective for being used sparingly, with which he dismissed Elgar was the delivery of the match.

"We bowled better, we batted better and we fielded better than we did in Southampton," Alastair Cook said. "It's encouraging when we can right wrongs. Swann was fit to play, but it's really nice when you have guys as solid as Tredwell to come into the side."

England's reply was built around two contrasting innings by Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan. Trott, all quiet accumulation, and Morgan, full of invention and aggression, complemented each other perfectly and underlined the impression that England are building a team that can adapt and challenge. If Pietersen and Morgan can be reunited in the middle-order, they will prove a potent problem for any bowling attack.

Despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, some will never accept Trott as a limited-overs batsman. But whatever his perceived issues on the flattest of wickets, there is probably no-one in world cricket who manages the overhauling of a modest target with as much certainty. He may well be the most reassuring batsmen England have had since the retirement of Graham Gooch. Morgan, in this form, looks irrepressible. Quite why he cannot convert such talent to first-class cricket - he averages under 20 in this year's County Championship - is hard to fathom.

"We have guys with various attributes who contribute to different ways of winning a game," Morgan said. "Trotty anchored the innings very well and I played the way I do. It worked out very well. I've worked hard and I've been hitting the ball well all summer."

Perhaps, had Trott played-on off Dale Steyn when he had scored 6, the result may have been different. But there is not a huge amount to choose between these teams and, as both teams look into the longer-term future, perhaps it is England who can be the slightly more optimistic.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • James on September 4, 2012, 0:11 GMT

    @maddy20 one win? What about 10-0 about Aus, WI and Pak?

  • Sean on September 2, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    Yes there certainly seems to be a huge amount of talent lining up to pull on the famous England shirt...happy days

  • Dummy4 on September 2, 2012, 0:46 GMT

    I think a lot of people here have forgotten that England have beaten PAK, WI, AUS and now one game against SA this year. One loss and people start to write England off. One win against SA is a return to the winners list. Other sides have lost more than this. England were normally ranked no.6 below AUS, SA, IND, SL and PAK. Now these wins have propelled them to the top. All the rubbish that people write on here is just not cricket.

  • Ross on September 1, 2012, 23:13 GMT

    @maddy20 Well 11 wins out of 12 shows some promise surely?

  • V.L on September 1, 2012, 20:28 GMT

    OneODI win and they show promise? We will see after the India ODI series where they have usually lost 5-0 all the time!

  • Akshita on September 1, 2012, 19:16 GMT

    @rahulcricketoo7 , Mr Dobell is not talking about England being unbeatable . He is just saying that there is hope for future this English team and that is perfectly alright and trying to figure out some positives for the team after a very difficult summer on and off the field .And there have been lots of negative talks in the media about the English team so a bit of positive writing wont do any harm .

  • darius on September 1, 2012, 15:17 GMT

    @landl47 you got to be kidding yourself India,Aus,Pak,SL have fairly young side except 1-2 above 31 in their odi side

  • Mark on September 1, 2012, 13:43 GMT

    @landl47, good call with Reece Topley. He has had a quieter season this year, but he looks like a likely Test player in 3-4 years time. Will Gidman is another one who should enter ODI reckoning and most certainly should go with the Lions. What is good is that fans outside English cricket don't see the talent bubbling through, so it will come as a nasty surprise. Woakes is going to get a Test call sooner or later, possibly in one of the series where one or two players are rested. Toby Roland-Jones has had a fabulous season and there are plenty of others who are making their mark. Reports on Simon Kerrigan are that he is still awfully raw, but if England were to take a third spinner to India, he'd probably be my pick: what better place to learn?

  • Ross on September 1, 2012, 12:15 GMT

    From the article: "so England's return to the top of the ODI rankings should be viewed with a certain cynicism." & "…the ranking flatters and misleads. England have a long way to go as an ODI side." From rahulcricket007: "LOLZ . JUST ONE WIN & ENGLISH EXPERTS ARE STARTING THERE HYPERBOLE ." and from CoolWorthy: "Wait...What am i reading here....with just one win the england is unbeatable according to their experts!!!!" I believe the apposite term here is 'cognitive dissonance'.

  • Ross on September 1, 2012, 11:00 GMT

    "Swann was fit to play…" I'm surprised this comment from Cook wasn't picked up on. Was it normal rotation, resting his chronic elbow injury or was it perhaps the new Test captain making a statement? A place in the side has to be earned, not a given. A proven track record buys some time in the side, but that only goes so far. Was Cook giving Swann a nudge here? On Morgan's FC record this season: when he was dropped from the Test side it seemed he had the opportunity to get a good run of games at Middlesex. Instead he missed the first month sitting in an IPL dugout, then went into the WI ODIs, then the Aussie ODIs and by the time he got back to the County it was all going into T20 mode. He has only played 5 Championship matches, scattered about here and there, but just like bowlers batsmen need to find their rhythm and he's not had the chance to do that in the long form. What he needs is a solid run of FC County games, but he's been poorly managed this season.

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