England v South Africa, 3rd NatWest ODI, The Oval

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

George Dobell at The Oval

August 31, 2012

Comments: 22 | Text size: A | A

Jonathan Trott acknowledges his half-century, England v South Africa, 3rd NatWest ODI, The Oval, August 31, 2012
Jonathan Trott once against demonstrated his reliability in a small chase © PA Photos

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Badgerofdoom on (September 4, 2012, 0:11 GMT)

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

Posted by RednWhiteArmy 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

Posted by   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.

Posted by allblue on (September 1, 2012, 23:13 GMT)

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

Posted by maddy20 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!

Posted by Akshita29 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 .

Posted by dariuscorny 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

Posted by CricketingStargazer 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?

Posted by allblue 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'.

Posted by allblue 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.

Posted by voice_of_reason on (September 1, 2012, 8:51 GMT)

@rahulcricket007 @CoolWorthy If you read the article properly Dobell is cynical about England's No. 1 ranking and does not think they are anywhere near the best, or unbeatable. He sees this as a team building for the future. I see no hyperbole in this article.

Posted by JG2704 on (September 1, 2012, 7:53 GMT)

I'm not getting too carried away here. We bowled well (no weak links today) but without Morgan's inns , with our lengthy tail we could well have failed again.

Posted by JG2704 on (September 1, 2012, 7:53 GMT)

@rahulcricket007 on (September 01 2012, 06:19 AM GMT) probably helps compensate from the amount of sniping junk we get when we're losing when we actually win a game

Posted by   on (September 1, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

I was very impressed with Morgan - especially how he played South Africa's spinners. I wouldn't rule out a test return to ensure that the middle order doesn't get bogged down against the spin threat of Ashwin & Ojha in India.

Posted by CoolWorthy on (September 1, 2012, 7:12 GMT)

Wait...What am i reading here....with just one win the england is unbeatable according to their experts!!!! Man...you gotta kiddin me....these same so called experts degraded the same english side when they were beaten by SA in tests and the 1st odi...and all of a sudden they were making this english side as unbeatable...till today i thought that some of the cricinfo followers are biased for their teams and making unnecessary comments on the english media and their experts...but i have just opened my eyes and i have proven wrong that the cricinfo followers are too good to analyze any english experts or media...whew...i really can't see such an analysis by any nation experts with one match win...

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (September 1, 2012, 6:19 GMT)


Posted by landl47 on (September 1, 2012, 3:13 GMT)

England has some good young players coming through. Woakes will get his chance, as will Bairstow. Root and Taylor are going to be fine players, though their time is not yet. England has the best 18-year old bowling prospect in the world in Reece Topley. Briggs, Kerrigan and Borthwick are all good young spinners. Only 4 of today's side were over 27 (Bell, Trott, Tredwell and Anderson) and Trott is the oldest at 31- compare that with India, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who are relying on players in their mid to late 30s. To be fair, South Africa had a fairly young side out today as well, but all things are relative; 8 of SA's players were 28 or more, so they were a good deal older than England. Although England has had a pretty good run over the last 3 years, I think they are still some way short of what they are going to be in future. In three years' time I think you'll see an even better England side.

Posted by RandyOZ on (September 1, 2012, 2:31 GMT)

@Nutcutlet - agreed, Swann has been in terrible form for the past 2 years, and it is insane that Monty hasn't been playing considering his great performances in the subcontinent. I think the selectors are doing an Asutralia and playing favourites.

Posted by RodStark on (September 1, 2012, 1:36 GMT)

Nutcutlet: I agree. I'm really starting to like Tredwell. He's always done well when called upon, and if Swann is losing form, suffering from injury, and (perhaps) being one of the dressing-room troublemakers, I would be quite happy to see him lose his place to Tredwell on a permanent basis. (And maybe see Broad/Bresnan lose theirs to Woakes as well, and perhaps even Anderson to Onions).

Posted by phoenixsteve on (September 1, 2012, 0:42 GMT)

A better performance from England who at last seem to have shaken the South African monkey off their back! It wasn't their best or most compelling victory though but hopefully they can get better? They certainly richly deserved their win though but without Morgan's flair it could have gone the other way. Great & very responsible knock from Trott who cemented the England batting. I thought Bell was going to treat us to a KP like innings but he just showed a glimpse of genius? Poor old Ravi - he doesn't seem to get any breaks these days & surely his time in England colors must be running out. I couldn't see contact or ball deviation but snicko seemed to prove the edge & Ravi was gone.... eventually! A good bowling performance - England look much more dangerous without Bresnan trundling along! Still like to see Onions or Woakes given a crack though - maybe Jimmy (who was excellent today) would like a breather? 2 more matches to go & the sides looked well matched at last!COME ON ENGLAND!!!

Posted by SurlyCynic on (August 31, 2012, 22:53 GMT)

Even without Kallis, if SA selected another batsman they would still have 7 bowlers, and if someone like Morkel gets over his injury then they will still have 8 bowlers. But today's selection was asking for trouble, as I posted on the preview. Depending on the pitch, either Petersen, Tsotsobe, Morkel could be rested and a batsman could play. Having only 6 batsmen is a problem if the top order don't go big. Morgan played well, if only he could play for his country - they need him.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 31, 2012, 22:48 GMT)

I have been pushing Tredwell's claims for a while now. Contrary to his veteran appearance, he's only thirty & with Swann's fitness becoming more & more of an issue, JT must be on the plane for Mumbai with a real prospect of some Test appearances. Swann hasn't bowled as well all season as his cover did today. Jade Dernbach too bowled with genuine threat and consistency, but I am yet to be convinced that he is a Test bowler, although that may come in time. He is improving for sure and was reponsible for three major wickets, allowing Jimmy to mop up the tail. This was the first time this season when England's attack looked the business - and who was missing? There have to be some questions about two or three absentees for the selectors to ponder on this collective performance. They must not be duped by the perceived need for bowling all-roundesr argument. Sounds obvious, but bowlers must take wickets, not thrash a quick 20 or 30 to make up for a poor day in their premier discipline.

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