The 80-run victory at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl last night handed the tourists a 1-0 lead after the second of five matches, and made them the first team to occupy No1 position simultaneously in all forms of international cricket.
England had no answer to Hashim Amla’s devastating 150, which helped South Africa amass 287-5 from their 50 overs, with Ian Bell and Samit Patel, who hit 45 each, unable to stop the home side’s challenge dying with nine overs to spare.
Cook, who was dismissed for a duck second ball, was left to rue a number of dropped catches, notably by wickekeeper Craig Kieswetter, but declared confidence in his charges’ ability to salvage the series -- and their No1 ranking.
“We just didn’t play well in all three areas, but credit to Hashim Amla -- his innings showed us how to play,” said Cook.
“We were always up with the run rate but we couldn’t get the partnerships going that South Africa did. It is frustrating to drop catches because you can’t give good players second chances. There is no reason why they are going down, we are a good fielding side normally.
“They are playing some good cricket, but we can turn it around -- like we did in Pakistan [earlier this year] when we lost the Test series.”
The loss of their position at the apex of the one-day game comes just days after England lost their No1 Test ranking to the same opponents last week at Lord’s.
It also came as batsman Kevin Pietersen, frozen out of the national set-up, gave selectors a reminder of the explosive hitting England were missing by scoring 163 for Surrey in a County Championship match.
Bell and Patel aside, Jonathan Trott (23), Ravi Bopara (16), Eoin Morgan (27) and Kieswetter (20) failed to generate the requisite momentum and fell to a potent South Africa attack, among whom Morne Morkel (2-29) recorded the best figures.
But it wasn’t just England’s batting that disappointed; fielding let them down as it did in the final Test, Kieswetter putting down three good chances to catch Amla, twice, and AB de Villiers (28).
Amla’s innings surpassed his previous one-day best of 140 against Bangladesh and saw him become the fastest man to reach 3,000 ODI runs, having taken 57 innings.