The various pieces of England's one-day jigsaw have slotted into place seamlessly over the last couple of weeks against South Africa. Kevin Pietersen's desire to have Steve Harmison back in the attack, Andrew Flintoff at No. 5 and Samit Patel as the spin-bowling allrounder has worked like a dream. The only plan that hadn't quite come off, at least until Sunday at Lord's, was Owais Shah's promotion to No.3.
He made 12 in the opening match at Headingley and 23 at The Oval but on his home ground Shah guided England's run chase of 137 off 20 overs with 44 off 40 balls as they took a 4-0 lead in the series. He didn't panic after a slow start and soon unleashed an array of shots against the struggling South Africa bowlers. It was getting increasingly dark, but Shah didn't have any problems picking up the ball, swinging one six over the Tavern boundary.
Pietersen has had the utmost faith in his players so far and had no doubts that Shah would show his true value higher up the order after an extended run at No. 6. "He got a top edge at Headingley and a good ball from [Jacques] Kallis at The Oval," said Pietersen. "I had no doubt he would come off. He knew I had the confidence in him, and so did the players and his county stats prove he's a great player in first-class cricket.
"He deserved a go at three. He's played some fantastic shots, and the way he was talking when I was batting with him was a really good sign of things to come."
Shah's stand of 74 with Pietersen broke the back of South Africa's defence after England had struggled to find the boundary during the Powerplays. Andrew Flintoff came in and finished the match in a blaze of boundaries, but was quick to give credit to the hard work of his team-mate. "I came in and did what I did and probably took the glory - but the work had been done beforehand," he said.
Flintoff added that Shah had the talent to make the most of his promotion to No. 3. The pair played together in age-group cricket for England and, at 29, it was now time for Shah to push for a lengthy international career.
"I've played a lot of cricket with Owais since he was about 14," said Flintoff. "He's always been a special player - I think there's a hell of a lot more to come from him."
Unlike Flintoff and Pietersen, Shah will be back on county duty after the final ODI against South Africa, at Cardiff, on Wednesday after being one of the players released for the remainder of the season. It will be a chance for Shah to end the season in good form before looking ahead to the Stanford Super Series and a tour of India.