England finished the standalone ODI series against South Africa with a flourish but the Proteas had the last laughter by claiming a 2-1 victory.
Twin defeats in Bloemfontein meant victory in Kimberley was a mere consolation for double world champions England, who have now gone four ODI series without a win.
With just a few months to go until they defend their World Cup title in India in the autumn, we look at their prospects.
Is it all doom and gloom?
No. Scheduling conflicts and injuries meant England were unable to summon their best XI – a recurring theme since their 2019 World Cup win. Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Liam Livingstone were all unavailable, with Ben Duckett and Harry Brook thrown in at the coalface. Brook, in particular, did his chances going forward no harm, while it was heartening to see Jofra Archer back in an England shirt after 22 months away. He is likely to get better and better if he stays fit.
Any positives from this series?
Plenty. Jason Roy returned to form with a century – although he followed that up with two single-figure scores. Dawid Malan might be putting pressure on Roy after toning up alongside Jos Buttler, rescuing England from 14 for three on Wednesday. Archer reminded everyone what he is capable of in the same match with six for 40 helping England end a five-match losing streak and Olly Stone bowled at high pace and looked menacing in the middle overs. Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Sam Curran were dependable, too.
How did the players rate?
Jason Roy: 7, Dawid Malan: 8, Ben Duckett: 4, Harry Brook: 6, Jos Buttler: 9, Moeen Ali: 7, Sam Curran: 7, David Willey: 5, Chris Woakes: 5, Adil Rashid: 7, Olly Stone: 7, Jofra Archer: 8, Reece Topley: 4.
Do England need Ben Stokes back for the World Cup?
The short answer is: yes. In England’s last two World Cup finals Stokes has been the batting linchpin and gotten his side over the line by hook or by crook. But, as it stands, he is simply unavailable in the format because of increasing demands on his time. He may reverse his ODI retirement ahead of the World Cup – and he would be welcomed back with open arms by Buttler and head coach Matthew Mott. But had Stokes been available in ODIs, it is unlikely he would have made the trip to South Africa because of the close proximity to the New Zealand Test series, which starts in a couple of weeks.
How are England shaping up for the World Cup?
It is, of course, too early to tell but next month’s white-ball tour of Bangladesh – where the pitches could resemble India’s – may offer some clues. They are England’s last ODI fixtures until September, when they will be putting the finishing touches to their squad. Several fringe players are electing to skip the tour for financial or family reasons so there is plenty of opportunity for those traveling.
Any places still up for grabs?
England’s options tick a lot of boxes. The absence of Stokes perhaps leaves them a batting all-rounder light, while they could do with a reliable back-up spinner to Rashid. But otherwise, whittling down the World Cup squad to 15 players might be something of a headache for Buttler and Mott given the embarrassment of riches they have in the batting department. If Archer, Stone and Wood remain fit then they have a high-pace attack to trouble any batting line-up. There is also plenty of experience running through the side with 50-over World Cup winners Roy, Buttler, Moeen, Woakes and Rashid featuring in South Africa. While England’s recent results paint a modest picture, there are plenty of positives.