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Cook strives for summit special

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Alastair Cook’s ODI side will be top of the International Cricket rankings when they play India in January thanks to today’s defeat of South Africa, but he admits it is not the same feeling of achievement as when the Test team was at number one.

England followed up Friday’s four-wicket win at the Kia Oval with a six-wicket triumph at Lord’s to go 2-1 up in the NatWest Series ahead of Wednesday’s finale at Nottingham. Even if they lose that, they will remain at the summit until their next scheduled ODI.

Like on Friday, victory was built on limiting the Proteas to an inadequate total followed by a steady pursuit. Chasing 221, Ian Bell’s classy 88 helped to complete the job with 20 balls left.

Cook, who became ODI skipper at the start of last summer and inherited the Test captaincy from Andrew Strauss on Wednesday, is pleased with the limited-overs progress but wants to see more.

“We’re still striving to improve in all the areas like most sides will, but this side especially,” he said.

“We’ve only been together now for a year or so and it’s been some really good results we’ve had, but we certainly don’t feel like the number one side because it certainly doesn’t feel like it did when we got there as a Test team.”

England lost their place at the Test summit with a 2-0 loss to the Proteas, who took over from them, and then suffered an 80-run setback in the first completed game of this rubber.

“Clearly after what’s happened this summer, playing against South Africa, we could have let our heads go down and it be a case of ‘here we go again’,” Cook added. “But the lads have stuck to their task.

“We admittedly didn’t get it right at the Ageas Bowl and we bounced back really well. Clearly we’ve still got the series to win, but I’m very proud of the way we’ve done that.

Ian Bell

“It was a classy knock again. I say that time and time again about Belly when you watch him play,” Alastair Cook said of Ian Bell's 88

“It’s been a good weekend for us, winning back-to-back games, and it’s encouraging signs that, after a heavy loss like that, we stayed true to ourself as a team and still played well.”

For the third straight game, Proteas openers Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla shared a fifty partnership. However, like on Friday, England took regular wickets from then on. Today they crucially snared four in 10 mid-innings overs.

James Tredwell dropped Amla and Smith in the slips but the off-spinner responded with three stumpings en route to 3-35 from eight overs.

“We didn’t quite get our rewards early on,” Cook said. “A couple of chances went down. But what was really pleasing was that we really stuck at our task, kept trying to apply pressure.

“Pretty much like the Oval, we kept picking up wickets at crucial times - never letting partnerships grow.

“One thing that did surprise us was it turned more than we thought. It must have turned off the damp, which is kind of unusual for Lord’s.”

Cook was lbw to Dale Steyn in the first over of the reply, but Bell and Jonathan Trott combined for a 141-run alliance during which the latter sustained a blow to the right hand from Steyn; Trott will have a scan tomorrow.

“It was a classy knock again. I say that time and time again about Belly when you watch him play,” Cook added.

“He has so much time and he’s delivering the goods at the top of the order. He’s come back into the side and he’s been outstanding.

“We know what a good player he is and he’s put in some really good match-winning performances this summer. It’s great to watch him at the other end and hopefully it will continue.”

Touring captain AB de Villiers did his best to remain upbeat, despite being part of a second straight below-par batting effort.

“We’re really not playing good cricket and when we get it right we’ll be a lot more competitive. That’s the positive thing," he said.

“The series is still alive. We’re only 2-1 down. We can level it up at 2-2, which would be a great achievement for us, and I really believe we can do that.”

That South Africa cannot return to the top of the rankings at Nottingham means little to de Villiers.

“It was never our focus coming into this series,” he added.

“It’s a little bit all over the place. Every game it can change and it definitely wasn’t our focus.

“We’ve got a long-term plan going forward. We want to play better cricket. We can’t be thinking about rankings when we’re playing at 70 per cent of our potential.”

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