x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Battle to be second best in 50 overs

England are facing South Africa in the final match of the one-day cricket series, with the chance of a whitewash.

England face South Africa in the final match of the one-day cricket series tomorrow knowing that a victory will not only secure a comprehensive 5-0 series whitewash but ensure that Kevin Pietersen's men become the second best team in the 50-over form of the game. England's transformation in the one-day game - a victory tomorrow will place them behind Australia in the one-day rankings - has been nothing short of remarkable over the past few weeks and comes as even more of a surprise given their recent performances in 50-over cricket.

Following a 2-1 defeat in the Test series, England were given little hope of rising to the challenge posed by South Africa, who stood second in the one-day rankings at the start of the five-match 50-over series which began at Headingly on Aug 22. For most of the year, England have languished in seventh place in the 12-team one-day rankings table and the team have been continually criticised for their performances and for their failure to find a settled line-up. South Africa had not lost a one-day match to England since Jan 2005 and, following nine straight one-day victories, were clear favourites to win the series.

Much of England's success is being credited to captain Pietersen and the players he has selected for the one-day series. The South African born batsman, who is known for his prolific hitting at Test and one-day level insisted that the bowler Steve Harmison be brought back to the attack and made Andrew Flintoff bat at No 5, to ensure some steely resolve to the middle-order. The bowling of spinner Samit Patel, who has also batted efficiently, has also proved to be a revelation while the performance of Owaish Shah in England's most recent victory over South Africa on Sunday suggested that he could make the No 3 batting spot his own.

The enigmatic Middlesex batsman scored 44 off 40 balls earning widespread praise for his batting. Pieteresen has led from the front, scoring an unbeaten 90 runs in the first one-day match against South Africa, setting the benchmark for the rest of the team. From facing continual criticism over their one-day performances, the new England settled line-up have already led some to suggest that the team could mount a series challenge for the next World Cup, due to take place in the Indian sub-continent in 2011.

Following England's victory last Sunday at Lord's, Pietersen said: "The team are looking a lot more settled and it appears that many of the problem positions have been resolved. It's a good sign for the future. We are determined to secure a 5-0 series victory and will do everything possible to make that happen." Following a series of injuries to crucial players, the South African captain Graeme Smith, who will miss tomorrow's match with a tennis elbow, will be hoping his team will avoid defeat to hold on to the second spot in the one-day rankings.

Smith said: "The results so far in the one-day series have been very disappointing. "We have had a bad series but need one good performance to ensure that we do not drop down the one-day rankings." vchaudhary@thenational.ae