An individual one day international is the equivalent of a McDonalds value meal, it’s appealing in advance, you quite enjoy it at the time, and afterwards you feel a bit empty and wondering why you’d anticipated it all day in the first place. But enjoying it at the time is no bad thing, though a Super Size Me month might leave the equivalent feeling of sickness.
Given England’s approach to the shorter forms of the game recently, it remains consistently fascinating how they could possibly have got it so wrong for so long. The team hierarchy of the time persistently denied that they were ever so fixated on statistics as was portrayed, though the less than entirely trustworthy Graeme Swann did claim that to be exactly what happened. Whatever the absolute truth of it, it is hard to believe that England would have carried on throwing the bat with abandon after their quickfire start in order to reach a total just shy of 400 – more that they would have felt that keeping wickets in hand and a decent score over 300 would have been viewed as satisfactory.
Perhaps that is overly harsh, for received wisdom is a very hard thing to fight against and there’s a tendency to paint failed regimes in the worst possible light, but the reality is that five of England’s seven highest one day international totals ever have come since June last year. Yes, it is true that the game has changed over the last few years, but it is only in this last seven months or so that England appear to have caught the zeitgeist.
Towards the end of the England innings it actually appeared quite possible that England might be bowled out, yet that didn’t stop them, they carried on attacking and considered being bowled out to be merely an occupational hazard. For supporters of other teams around the world, this must seem a statement of the most bleeding obvious there can be, but for those who follow England, seeing them play this way is still a startling thing to witness. There are a few players of recent vintage who would revel in this England approach.
Fifteen sixes were hit across the 50 overs, which is a record for England, and you wouldn’t bet against them breaking that again next time out. Jos Buttler will rightly get the plaudits, for a blistering century that came off 73 balls, and still represents his slowest one yet. That in itself indicates the absurdity of the past, and the delight of the present. For it is bringing the best out of players who when set free can be a joy to watch. For Root’s 52 off 58 balls to be the slowest innings in the top eight is absurd.
Buttler made the big score, but Roy looked more assured at the top of the innings than he has done before, Hales appeared liberated from the inhibited player in the Test series, while Stokes simply terrifies opponents at the moment. His catch to remove De Villiers on the boundary had the preposterousness of so many great all rounders of the past, for whom sometimes nothing is impossible.
South Africa’s run chase was ultimately doomed by the rain that curtailed the match and allowed England to win by the not insubstantial margin of 39 runs under Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (let us hope there are no further modifications to this system, it is taking a while to type) and in truth would probably have won the game had it gone to its natural conclusion But probably is only as far as can be said, for Quinten de Kock certainly had other ideas. He was on the field every ball of the match, and batted superbly well to be unbeaten on 138 when the weather closed in. With another 150 needed, and half the side out, it would have been a big ask, but not entirely impossible.
Thus far only batsmen have been mentioned rather than bowlers. One of many jokes a batsman will lob in the direction of their bowling colleagues is that they are there to serve – and to deal with it. In Test cricket, the bowlers are the most important members of the side, in ODI and T20 cricket, they really are there to serve.
England go 1-0 up, while South African supporters will lament that the shortened game robbed them of what could just possibly have been a great victory. There’s been enough in this match for there to be another queue at McDonald’s on Saturday.