The series may have suffered from an after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-show feel but, thanks to their win on Sunday, England did at least extend a proud record.
Victory by two wickets over South Africa in Johannesburg meant that England ensured the three-match One-Day International series was drawn 1-1 and their three-year unbeaten record remains intact.
England’s domination of the 50-over format is such that last year’s World Cup came in the middle of a purple patch which stretches back to January 2017, when they were beaten 2-1 away in India.
There have been many factors which have sustained that period of excellence – former head coach Trevor Bayliss removing the shackles of conservatism; Eoin Morgan’s leadership; the ultra-attacking, ultra-consistent opening partnership of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow – and it was fitting that Sunday’s win was built on the back of another.
Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid have both spent most of the winter away from the glare of the England side, but both displayed just how important they are to Morgan’s side in Johannesburg.
Moeen’s stock has fluctuated in recent months after he chose to take a break from the red-ball side following the first Ashes Test and was dropped for the closing stages of the World Cup. The all-rounder has spent his time playing Twenty10 cricket in Abu Dhabi and ruminating on his future after featuring in New Zealand.
Meanwhile Rashid, who has struggled with a shoulder injury for some time, featured on the tour of New Zealand before joining his friend on the T10 circuit in the Middle East.
Back bowling in tandem in South Africa, their importance to the white-ball team was clear. Moeen’s steady, reliable off-spin creates a fantastic combination when coupled with Rashid’s attacking, hard to read leg-spin which allows Morgan the luxury of being able to control the run-rate without being defensive.
After Tom Curran and Saqib Mahmood had kept things tight up front, conceding just 36 runs and taking one wicket from the opening powerplay, it was England’s spinners who turned the screw.
Rashid out-foxed Temba Bavuma with a googly to break a 66-run partnership with Quinton de Kock before doing the same to Rassie van der Dussen the very next ball. However, because Bavuma’s unsuccessful review for lbw had not included UltraEdge technology, Van der Dussen was incorrectly allowed to review and earn a reprieve.
Thankfully for England it didn’t last long, the right-hander comprehensively bowled playing back to one which kept low from Moeen (1-42) seven balls later. Rashid (3-51) then snared the big wicket of De Kock (69), generating some dip to evade the Proteas captain’s heave and hit the leg stump.
Jon-Jon Smuts was run out before Andile Phehlukwayo became Rashid’s third victim, missing a sweep shot to be pinned lbw.
David Miller provided some late impetus with some much-needed legside hitting, but South Africa’s total of 256-7 always looked light on a pitch with decent bounce and a short boundary on one side.
The successful return of England’s spinners was not the only positive either. Roy and Bairstow did what they do best, putting on 61 runs in just 6.2 overs to take out what little sting there was from the chase.
After a minor wobble, experience and youth combined to stabilise. Joe Denly and Tom Banton made 70 runs together, with Denly reaching his second half-century of the series and Banton making a 32 which suggested he is not overawed at this level.
England lost three wickets in the space of 16 balls to stumble at the finish line, but fittingly it was Moeen who struck the winning runs as the visitors got home on 257-8 with 40 balls remaining.
England have learned a few things about new players at the start of their latest cycle.
But the final match of the series also proved beyond any doubt how crucial an old, well-established combination is to their success.