England v Australia, 2nd ODI, Lord's September 5, 2009

South Africa our benchmark - Hopes

It's a sign of the times when Australia are looking at other teams as the benchmark for success. Having lost their No. 1 ranking in both Tests and ODIs they are now aspiring to reach the levels of South Africa, the team which has usurped them at the top, as they build for a new generation.

The challenge hit home for this current Australia side when they were beaten home and away in the one-day series against South Africa earlier this year. Across ten ODIs in two countries they lost 7-3, with the 4-1 hammering in Australia an especially crushing result considering the home advantage.

"I think the turning point for us was when we saw South Africa as being the benchmark and they did us over pretty good in two series," said allrounder James Hopes. "We were a bit off the pace, then we went to Dubai to play Pakistan and we fought out some really tough wins against a very good team. I think that was our turning point and we have carried that on over here."

Australia held on for a four-run win in the opening match against England and Hopes said it was vital that game didn't slip away as the team aims to turnaround their fortunes following the Ashes defeat. "It stops the spiral. If we'd started off with a loss it could have been here we go again. But we've kick-started the one-day series and now tomorrow becomes very important.

"We thought we were in control, but always at the back of our minds was what happened against South Africa. A couple of times when we thought we were in a pretty good position, they'd take the batting Powerplay and overcome us at the end. We are pleased to come out with a win, it doesn't matter by how much, four runs is enough and we are full of confidence."

This is the start of a packed period of one-day cricket with the Champions Trophy to follow the current series before Australia head to India for a seven-match ODI series. Michael Clarke is currently leading the team while Ricky Ponting takes a break and there are a number of new and recalled faces as Australia build towards the 2011 World Cup.

Hopes, though, has been a regular part of the one-day set-up in recent years in a variety of roles. His performance at The Oval was typically understated but useful. He clubbed 18 off 11 balls and then bowled five tight overs for 14, including Australia's only maiden. It took him a while to settle in the side, but is now more than happy to be Australia's man for all occasions although never takes anything for granted when it comes to selection.

"I don't think you ever feel that you are established in this side, there are so many good players on the sidelines that you don't want to think you are in the side permanently," he said. "I'm feeling a bit more comfortable in my role, which is sometimes a bit hard to figure out. Sometimes I open, I've batted three and I've batted as low as nine. I've bowled in the first 10 overs or not until the 35th.

"I'm getting more comfortable with that 'Mr Fix It' role we need and if I can keep doing that for another two years until the 2011 World Cup I'll be happy."

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo