England target series whitewash
Reece Topley admits he is living the dream as an England player, so it is no wonder he is thinking big by aiming for a 5-0 whitewash in this one-day series against South Africa.
Victory today would give Eoin Morgan's team, who won the opening two matches of the series at Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth, an unassailable 3-0 advantage with two games to spare.
Such a result would make England the first country since Australia in 2002 to win both the Test and one-day series on a single tour of South Africa.
That would be another notable success for Trevor Bayliss, England's Australian coach, who added success in the Test series here to last summer's surprise Ashes victory against his homeland. However, such is the exuberance of youth that Topley chose to take the lead from another Australian in Glenn McGrath by daring to suggest the whitewash in this one-day series was now on.
“We don't want South Africa to get back into the series,” said the 21-year-old left-arm seamer. “We want to wrap it up in the next game here. We can put this series to bed and, hopefully, go for a 5-0.”
Topley's positive outlook is understandable given how well England have played in limited-overs cricket since his debut in a T20 international against Australia in Cardiff at the end of last summer.
“I am just very privileged to be here,” he said. “I am thankful I am still playing for England and I don't want the ride to end. I am living my dream.”
With the World T20 coming up hot on the heels of this tour, England's rich vein of limited-overs form is timely. Another one-day series success here would be the third in four since the World Cup last year, with both T20s played in that period also having been won.
“South Africa are a good side,” said Topley. “We are well aware of this being our biggest challenge as a side. We have backed up the Test series win brilliantly. Two series wins out of two going into the World Twenty20 would be an amazing feat for us.”
England name their squad for that tournament tomorrow and Topley is certain to be part of it. “I'm looking forward to finding out what the squad is,” the 21-year-old said. “If I go to India it will be a dream come true because that's where I want to be - representing my nation at a World Cup. I would love to show what I can do on that stage.”
Topley has had to contend with a succession of back injuries at the start of his career. However, with a clean bill of health last summer he took 36 wickets at an average of 20.44 across both limited-overs formats for Essex.
It has earned him a move to Hampshire for next summer, where he will also look to stake a claim for Test honours in the First Division of the County Championship.
Yet the secret to Topley's success so far in international cricket has been to remain true to the approach that has worked for him at domestic level. “I'm just trying to recreate the feelings that got me here,” he said. “I had a pretty good white-ball season last year and I've just tried to recreate the feelings I had playing for Essex last year. It's pretty simple.”
As for England, the lightened mood in the camp since last winter's depressing World Cup campaign, when an anxious collective under the guidance of former coach Peter Moores were eliminated at the group stage, has made a huge difference.
“The results keep coming and we're doing really well as a one-day side,” said Topley. “We're in such a brilliant place at the minute. We're all just enjoying ourselves and we're having a lot of fun doing what we love.”
England will name an unchanged team today. After all, why tinker with a winning formula? South Africa, who know victory is their only option if they are to stay in contention in this series, are likely to bring David Miller into their top six in place of Rilee Rossouw and could also replace Farhaan Behardien with another all-rounder in Chris Morris.
Probable teams: South Africa
AB de Villiers (capt), HM Amla, F du Plessis, Q de Kock (wkt), DA Miller, JP Duminy, KJ Abbott, CH Morris, K Rabada, MI Tahir, M Morkel.
EJG Morgan (capt), AD Hales, JJ Roy, JE Root, BA Stokes, JC Buttler (wkt), MM Ali, AU Rashid, CJ Jordan, DJ Willey, RJW Topley.
CB Gaffaney (NZ) & JD Cloete (SA)
Warm with a mixture of sunshine and showers. Maximum temperature 28C.
Sky Sports 2, 11am-8pm GMT
Fourth ODI Friday, Jo'burg
Fifth ODI Sunday, Cape Town – The Independent