OFFICIALLY, England started their international season three weeks ago with two one-day games against Ireland.
Unofficially, their summer began yesterday with a 72-run win over South Africa.
With all due respect to the Irish, a double-header against an associate country was never going to provide meaningful preparation for the Champions Trophy that commences a week today.
A three-match series against South Africa, on the other hand, the world’s No 1-ranked one-day side, is much more of a litmus test as England seek to win their first global 50-over competition.
As such, plenty of good news could be gleaned from the opening game of that series in Leeds.
First and foremost, the form of captain Eoin Morgan, which looks considerable ahead of the Champions Trophy opener against Bangladesh.
If the art of captaincy is leading from the front, then Morgan had it down to a fine art here, scoring 107 from 93 balls with seven fours and five sixes as England totalled 339-6 after being sent into bat.
It was the highest one-day international total at Headingley, beating the 324 made by Sri Lanka in 2006 and by India in 2007, and with Moeen Ali contributing 77 not out and Alex Hales 61, it was too much for South Africa, who managed 267, Hashim Amla top-scoring with 73.
“It was a very pleasing win and a pretty good day at the office,” said Morgan, whose 11th one-day international hundred was his third in eight innings after 24 innings without one. “We weren’t quite sure what a good score was, but with the partnerships we built, we gave ourselves the best opportunity, and it was pleasing to get a few runs myself.”
South Africa captain AB de Villiers remarked: “We were outplayed by a better team, but there’s two more games to go, and a lot to look forward to.”
With Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes back from the Indian Premier League, there was no place for local hero Jonny Bairstow, who scored an unbeaten 72 in the second ODI against Ireland.
And with David Willey also making way, it meant that there were “only” three Yorkshire players on view in the form of Joe Root, Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid, although South Africa did include ex-Yorkshire batsman David Miller and former Yorkshire leg-spinner Imran Tahir, having left out another ex-Yorkshire player in the shape of pace bowler Morne Morkel.
In hot sunshine, with a stiff breeze barely taking the edge off temperatures, England began poorly when Jason Roy fell to the eighth ball, driving at Wayne Parnell with no foot movement and edging behind.
If Bairstow is to force his way into the one-day team, one route could yet be as an opener, a role he has been performing for Yorkshire in the Royal London Cup.
Expect no 11th-hour tinkerings before the Champions Trophy, however, with England having fallen into that trap before.
Root followed Roy and soon had his cover-drive flowing to purrs of appreciation. A delicious square-driven four off Kagiso Rabada was met with loud applause, and Root and Hales looked in little trouble as they added 98 in 16 overs.
But the introduction of pace bowler Andile Phehlukwayo spelled the end for both men in quick succession.
With his first delivery, Phehlukwayo had Hales caught behind off an attempted cut, Root departing in similarly frustrating fashion when he top-edged to leg after trying to hook with both feet practically off the ground.
Morgan announced himself by lofting Phehlukwayo for six over long-off and received good support from Stokes, with whom he added 68 in 11 overs before Stokes – who later experienced discomfort in his knee – picked out deep mid-wicket.
When Buttler clipped Chris Morris to leg gully, England were 198-5 in the 35th and in need of some Bairstow-like fireworks to reach a par score.
Morgan and Ali provided them, clearing the rope ten times between them as they shared 117 inside 14 overs, Ali striking Tahir for three sixes in an over en route to a 35-ball fifty.
Morgan pulled Rabada for six towards the old pavilion to reach a 90-ball hundred, perishing in pursuit of another maximum when he skied to long-off.
There have only been two higher List A totals at Headingley, the highest by Yorkshire (349-7) only three weeks ago in the Royal London Cup against Derbyshire, with five of the venue’s top-seven List A scores having been recorded this summer.
When South Africa replied, Quinton de Kock fell early, skying Woakes to wicketkeeper Buttler, but Amla and Faf du Plessis added 112 inside 19.
Mark Wood trapped Amla lbw on review and Liam Plunkett had du Plessis caught behind, JP Duminy pulling a Rashid long-hop to deep mid-wicket, a position where Miller also holed out.
Once de Villiers did likewise, leaving South Africa 225-7 in the 38th, the game was up for the tourists, whose tail subsided as Woakes finished with 4-38.