TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
FEW South Africans will want to remember the 2015 World Cup, even though their team went further than ever before by winning a knockout match.
But, earlier in that tournament – at the first hurdle, in fact – England were on their way home having lost four of their six group games. Their only successes were achieved against the lowly likes of Scotland and Afghanistan.
Indeed, if the World Cup is counted among England’s last 10 ODI series, they have won only four.
However, since the tournament England have won eight of their completed one-day internationals, along the way earning series wins over New Zealand and Pakistan and going down to Australia by the odd game in five.
The credit for a large part of England’s resurgence, in the test and one-day formats, belongs to Andrew Strauss, who was appointed their director of cricket eight months ago.
Strauss replaced the ineffectual Peter Moores with the more pragmatic Trevor Bayliss as coach and told Kevin Pietersen his international career was over.
Under Bayliss, England have become a team worth watching. Pietersen, gifted player though he is, is not worth his weight in the disruption he seems powerless not to bring to England’s dressingroom.
SA, too, have tried hard to put the World Cup behind them by beating New Zealand at home and India away in their most recent ODI series, lending credence to the theory that their loss in Bangladesh in the aftermath of Auckland and all that had more to do with the suits meddling in selection than their own deficiencies.
And now this – a five-match ODI series between two rebuilding teams starting in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.
“We’ve won our last two series and we’ll take a lot of confidence out of that,” JP Duminy said on Monday. “But we know that it’s a tough challenge facing us; we know that England have also been playing well in the one-day format.”
That said, SA will start on the back foot without the injured Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander for the series, while Kyle Abbott has been ruled out for the first two matches. Albie Morkel, who was due to be added to the squad on Sunday, has also been injured and replaced by David Wiese.
However, Duminy bridled at the suggestion that SA’s squad strength had been weakened.
“I think the replacements are good enough to stand in for those players,” he said. “It’s important for us to stay unified as a team no matter who the personnel are.”
With the test series handsomely won by England and the World T20 a month away – which adds to the significance of the two T20s SA and England will play after the ODIs – the prospect of five games of the 50-over stuff seems less edifying than ever.
But it is in these games, where the pressure is as off as it can be at this level and no-one much cares who wins and loses, that the players can find themselves again; as individuals and as teams.