England have never won a one-day series in South Africa.
Three previous attempts in the past 14 years have ended in outright failure accompanied by the conclusion that the team were going nowhere and needed restructuring.
Too often in that period England's teams have looked as if they were cobbled together by a bunch of cowboy builders rather than assembled, piece by confident piece, by a team of craftsmen and designers who knew what they were doing. There has always been the promise that England will have a regularly competitive one-day team one day. One day, some day, never.
When the latest series of five matches begins in Johannesburg today — if the heavy African rain which has persisted for two days should relent — the tourists will, as usual, begin as outsiders. They trail by a distance in the ICC rankings and, unlike South Africa, have yet to produce a sustained sequence of positive, planned and successful cricket.
Yet there is some reason to believe that England can give South Africa a decent game in the next two weeks when the one-day caravan will go from Johannesburg and Centurion, down to the south coast at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth before finishing in the east at Durban.
It would have been helpful to England's cause to play their first-choice team today. But, as with all England tours, various joints and muscles appeared to surrender almost as soon as they hit foreign soil. Stuart Broad, whose shoulder has stubbornly refused to accept that injections are meant to do it good, and Graeme Swann, who has an intercostal injury of the sort which invariably provokes sagacious, knowing shakes of the heads to indicate just how tricky it might be to clear up, will both miss the first two matches of the series.
There is much more optimism about the prospects of Paul Collingwood, who stands to break Alec Stewart's one-day caps record if his back recovers, and Jimmy Anderson, whose knee is said to be no more than a niggle. But then optimism about England cricketers has been so often misplaced that a degree of scepticism is inevitable.
James Tredwell, who took 69 first-class wickets for Kent last summer, making him the leading English bowler in the Championship, as well as 14 in one-day matches, has been called into the squad as cover. So, too, has Liam Plunkett, the Durham fast bowler. Neither is likely to play today.
A 72-year old world record was broken on the fourth day of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad yesterday when Mahela Jayawardene and his namesake, Prasanna Jayawardene put on 351 for the sixth wicket.
They beat the pevious record of 346 between Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton — 1,676 tests ago — before Sri Lanka declared on 760 for seven, a first innings lead of 334. India were 190 for two at the close.