Thursday, December 3, 2009

Andrew Strauss ignores rain as England stand on brink of historic win

Only England cricketers with a vivid imagination could possibly believe there is any chance of today's one-day international against South Africa taking place, given the Durban weather. Those who visited the sullen darkness of the Kingsmead ground yesterday and saw covers the size of small fields covering the square, and much else besides, with little lakes in the outfield, were reminded of the flooding that so often afflicts New Road, Worcester.

The England captain, Andrew Strauss, however, decided to suspend disbelief. "I'm fully expecting to play a game of cricket," he said. "For us to think about the weather intervening would be highly disruptive. We would all prefer to grab victory by playing well again."

England lead this ODI series 2-1 – the first match having been lost to the weather – and if there is no play today they will become only the second team after Australia to win a one-day series in this country.

Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, had a forlornness about him. "There has been a huge amount of rain around the past two or three weeks, so the groundstaff have got their work cut out," he said. The weather's not great and no one expects to play, but as a team we have to be prepared. If we get on the field we have a chance of levelling the series and that's our focus."

But he seemed more focused on a series lost. "I'm pretty philosophical about it," he said, with the tone of a man who might never play again. "We haven't really performed up to standard in at least two of those games. So we've only got ourselves to blame."

Either way, Strauss and his team are on the brink of real achievement here. To beat one of the world's best one-day sides without Andrew Flintoff, and with only a minimum contribution from Kevin Pietersen, the two dominant personalties when they beat South Africa in England last year, is a reflection of a new sense of purpose around the side.

Strauss picked out last summer's 6-1 ODI defeat by Australia as the catalyst for change. "Some time you need to go through the tough times to see the light and realise where you've been going wrong," he said.

"There was a real realisation in that Australia series that we were not as good as we wanted to be and if we wanted to be better we had to do things differently. That defeat gave us the impetus to mix things up. It forced myself and Andy [Flower, the team director] and the coaching staff to ask how we could do things differently."

England should have been aware of their one-day shortcomings before this. They were beaten 5-0 in India last winter, after all. And, in general, they have been duffers since they reached the World Cup final for the third and last time in 1992.

"We've been quite good at divorcing ourselves from one-day misery in the past," Strauss said. "Because we've had to. But if we could win this one-day series that would give us a nice lift."

Strauss was anxious to talk about the new, more positive "brand" of cricket England were playing. "When you go out and express yourself you sometimes surprise yourself that some of these shots you play are not quite as risky as you thought."

He was talking about himself, as much as anyone else, for a short time ago he was not considered good enough for this cricket. He averaged just 19.71 in 14 matches in 2007 and did not play at all last year. This year he has averaged 32.35. But Smith, as if recalling a lost line from the mind games that were a feature of the early stages of this tour, reminded everyone that Strauss had yet to score an ODI fifty against South Africa (his best in 12 matches is 46).

England will pick from a fully fit squad. Jimmy Anderson, the message went, had put his knee injury – which had sounded like a particularly nasty dislocation – behind him.

England (from): Strauss (capt), Trott, Pietersen, Morgan, Collingwood, Prior (wkt), Wright, Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Onions.

South Africa (from): Smith (capt), Amla, De Villiers, Duminy, Petersen, Boucher (wkt), McLaren, Botha, Parnell, M Morkel, Langeveldt, A Morkel.

Umpires: R Tucker (Aus), M Erasmus (SA).

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