England gave up their rather inexplicable number one ranking with little more than a whimper at the Rose Bowl. Hashim Amla’s sensational 150 took South Africa to an imposing – but not insurmountable – score, before England capitulated quicker than a Thai owned Championship outfit on a reasonable warm night in the Midlands in reply. Every batsman got in and every batsman had a total brain fade when set to gift their wicket away. It was a horrible batting display from a side which had been excellent with the blade all year in one day cricket; incredibly frustrating given it came, as in the Test matches, in their toughest challenge for some time.
Even South Africa will probably feel they still have considerable room for improvement; some of the batting with Amla was some way short of clever – that he faced relatively few deliveries despite being in for almost the entire innings was a big failing – and the bowling lacks real match-winning quality without Dale Steyn. The Rose Bowl pitch suited their plethora of filthy part-time spinners, but England will fancy they can have success against the attack on more ‘English’ style wickets in the rest of the series.
For the home side, though, this was a return to the bad old days of English ODI performances. They were sloppy in the field, there’s no death bowler they can rely on, it still feels like captaincy by pre-determined template and the batting plunged to new depths of stupidity. The fear when Kevin Pietersen temporarily retired earlier this summer was that there would be too much pressure on Eoin Morgan when they were chasing a big score and today was the first real demonstration of such a problem. England need to get Jonny Bairstow in the side if only to take some of the hitting pressure off of the former-Irishman’s back.
The ECB have decided to grace our favourite 51allouter’s birthday with another ODI, so it would be nice if England could chip in with a win. They were a long way off that in Southampton but the Oval will be a flatter pitch and South Africa’s army of part-time spinners are unlikely to have as much of an impact. We’d like both Chris Woakes and Jonny Bairstow to get a go, although whatever the selection everything will rely on whether England’s pacemen can do early damage. Generally they will back themselves to get anything up to about 250; the bowlers will have to make that a winning score.