It is clearly a blow to England’s World Cup chances that Kevin Pietersen is out of the tournament because of his hernia problem, which now urgently requires an operation, but at least it has enabled them to get Eoin Morgan back into the squad.
Morgan, of course, has not batted since towards the end of the one-day series in Australia, during which he chipped a finger, but he has had a rest and England’s magnificent win against South Africa does now give them a little bit of breathing space in the group – and that will allow Morgan to have a couple of knocks and to acclimatise before the quarter-finals.
Left-hander Morgan can also give England the finisher in the middle-order that they have patently lacked so far in the World Cup, while either Ravi Bopara or Ian Bell is quite capable of opening the innings with Andrew Strauss in KP’s absence.
Pietersen, it must be remembered, has averaged only 23 in 27 one-day internationals since he scored his last ODI hundred, and his latest injury has visibly been hampering him.
Morgan averages 40 in his 38 one-day international appearances for England, at a strike rate of almost 90 and with three hundreds already, and since transferring from Ireland he has been by some distance England’s best and most inventive limited-overs batsman.
The remarkable win against South Africa has made it almost certain that England will qualify for the knock-out stage, but they must learn the lessons of the six-run triumph in Chennai if they are to get any further than the quarter-finals.
England made a lot of mistakes in the win against Graeme Smith’s team, but for sheer guts and character it was one of their finest performances in one-day cricket for some time and, at last, shows the world that the qualities which helped them to win the Ashes in Australia earlier this winter are still very much there.
Full marks to both Bopara and Jonathan Trott for the brilliant way they responded to England’s initial and naive slump to 15 for 3 to ensure that some sort of total was posted to defend. Bopara is in the side to stay now, and that is a good thing to my mind because he is a class act as a batsman and, although we are yet to see it, he can also bowl his medium-pacers very cannily in limited-overs cricket.
England, however, should have scored more runs once Trott and Bopara had steadied the innings with a sensible and well-judged stand of 99 and both had reached excellent half-centuries. To be bowled out with more than four overs of the 50-over allocation still to come, in which another ten or fifteen runs could have been scored without taking undue risk, was sloppy.
A total of 171 was still a defendable one, though, on a very bowler-friendly pitch in that there was both turn for the spinners and low bounce for the seamers, and England must be commended for the way they fought and fought to prevent the South African batsmen from getting away from them – despite a solid start being provided by Smith and Hashim Amla.
Graeme Swann, in particular, was very dangerous and looked the class act he is and, although he took only one wicket, he provided the lead with the ball that enabled England first to stay in the game and then, in a remarkable finish, to edge out South Africa by bowling them out for 165.
Stuart Broad showed why he is a key member of this attack – his illness earlier in this tournament hit England hard – and Jimmy Anderson produced a magnificent delivery to bowl JP Duminy and set the South African reply into real wobble-mode.
England collectively held their nerve in this game – while South Africa, it could be argued, didn’t hold theirs – and that will stand them in good stead for the rest of this World Cup.
What Strauss and his team must learn now is that, on slow pitches such as this one, the top order batsman really do have to assess the conditions and set out their stall accordingly and the lower order have to make sure they extend the innings to the full 50 overs because every run does count in tight matches that these kind of pitches can produce.
Indeed, England’s last two group games – against Bangladesh in Chittagong and then against West Indies back here in Chennai – are both going to be played in all likelihood on this kind of surface.
That, after this win, may turn out to be an advantage but England must keep using their brains as well as depending on their undoubted fighting spirit.