'Honesty has revived England' - Strauss
Given the amount of rain that has fallen on Durban's Kingsmead ground in the past week, Andrew Strauss would be forgiven for wishing that the heavens remain open for another day, so that his team can cement their 2-1 series lead, and emerge victorious for the first time ever in an ODI series in South Africa. But such is the journey that Strauss and his charges have been on in recent months, such an anticlimactic conclusion would be far from fitting. The team has been accused of many things of late, but being boring is not one of them.
For Strauss himself, the Durban contest marks a notable milestone. Weather permitting, it will be his 100th ODI cap, and seeing as he had been jettisoned from the set-up after the 2007 World Cup, and spent a full two years thinking he'd never play in that format again, it is an achievement of some note. "To come back in and be part of this side and feel like we're going somewhere is quite motivating," he told reporters at Kingsmead. "I'm really enjoying my one-day cricket."
Enjoyment has been central to England's mini-revival. Back in September, when a listless and Ashes-sated squad were battered 6-1 in their home series against Australia, it didn't seem possible to inject any urgency into their performances. But then came a relocation to South Africa for the Champions Trophy, and suddenly the results began to stack up - albeit with the odd hefty set-back, as inflicted by the Aussies once again in the semi-final of that tournament, and by South Africa in their record-breaking run-fest at Newlands last week.
But Strauss's England teams are becoming accustomed to fighting back from adversity - witness their spirited response to being bowled out for 51 in Jamaica in February, or the way they claimed the Ashes despite being routed in two-and-a-half days in the penultimate Test at Headingley in August. According to the captain, such bouncebackability requires a culture of honesty within the squad, and an absence of ego.
"Players have probably opened their eyes to the fact we have a long way to go and we've all got to be prepared for hard work if we're going to get somewhere," said Strauss. "We want an environment where we all push each other very hard - and in order to do that, we need to be honest with each other first and foremost. The environment we're trying to create is one everyone has kind of accepted."
South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, is not noted for his chumminess with his English opposite numbers - having sparred with Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen in recent times - but even he could not find much of a bone to pick with Strauss, despite the lingering issue of his refused runner during the Champions Trophy.
"Andrew is an intelligent guy, with a lot of common sense," said Strauss. "He's provided a lot of stability for England and has gone about it the way we have expected. We've managed to keep a little hold on him in terms of his batting - he still hasn't scored a fifty against South Africa in one-day cricket, but he's the guy we expected him to be."
But, as Smith went on to point out, it doubtless helps England's rebuilding efforts that the go-to men of recent times - most notably Andrew Flintoff and Pietersen - have been out of the limelight, which has allowed new stars such as Eoin Morgan and Jonathan Trott to find their feet without being overshadowed. "We don't want three or four senior players running the show," said Strauss. "We want everyone feeling comfortable enough to contribute, and also that it's expected of them to contribute.
"In the sport we play, there are always going to be people who are bigger characters than others or have bigger egos," he added."But a good environment is able to take that into account and still let people express themselves and get the best out of themselves."
One of those players with a larger-than-average ego is Pietersen, who has struggled to reassert himself since returning to the squad following his Achilles injury, and produced a particularly frenetic six-ball performance at Port Elizabeth on Sunday. And true to form, Smith cranked up the psychological pressure by reminding him of the reasons why he is not the most universally popular cricketer on this tour.
"He's obviously got a history through things that he's done and said, and people are still getting over those emotions," said Smith. "The crowds have been quite vocal again towards him. Ultimately, I think it's just his job to get on with it and deal with that. It happens round the world these days."