Then, England won their first 50-over World Cup in the most dramatic fashion but now, 6,000 miles away in the shadow of Table Mountain, a new chapter begins.
Tuesday, and the first of three ODIs against South Africa, marks the beginning of a new four-year cycle as England ultimately build towards defending their world title in India in 2023.
So how are the world champions looking going into the series, what issues are on the horizon and what changes could happen?
- England in South Africa – fixtures and results
Will Morgan stay on as captain?
The biggest issue around the future of England’s 50-over team surrounds their captain Eoin Morgan – the man who took them from no-hopers to world champions in the space of four years.
Following the World Cup, Morgan did not immediately commit to staying on as skipper, citing back problems, and he has so far only guaranteed continuing until the Twenty20 World Cup in October in Australia.
This – and the fact Morgan will be 36 when the next World Cup begins – raises serious doubts over whether he will be part of the England team in 2023.
Former assistant coach Paul Farbrace, who was a key part of England’s white-ball improvements before leaving the set-up in spring 2019, said Morgan may be tempted to walk away if his side win the T20 World Cup.
Farbrace told BBC Sport: “Whether he will be playing in another four years, who knows? If his form is good and his fitness is good then there is no reason why he shouldn’t.”
‘Buttler the heir apparent’
Farbrace says that if – or when – Morgan does move on from the captaincy, the plan is in place within the England set-up for wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler to take over.
Buttler, 29, is the current vice-captain and has stood in on six occasions when Morgan has been unavailable.
“Buttler is the heir apparent,” Farbrace said. “He is a very good leader within that team. He will make a fantastic captain.
“He and Morgs think very similarly about the game but, equally, he will be his own man.
“He does more in the dressing room than people give him credit for. He has a big say in a lot of things. He and [Ben] Stokes are the two big talkers in the dressing room.”
Although he believes Buttler is ready to captain England, Farbrace said he would prefer Morgan to continue for at least two more years, until after the T20 World Cup in India in 2021.
“If Jos doesn’t take over the captaincy for another year, 18 months or two years and has an 18-month period into the World Cup, that would be perfect for him,” Farbrace said.
“There would be a danger if Jos took over too soon and he had four years to build a team then that might be too long.
“I’d like to think Morgs will do it for the next couple of years and win the T20 World Cup at least once. It would also give Jos little bit more time to be in position to take over as captain.”
Who else could move on?
The squad for England’s series against South Africa is largely made up of the 2019 World Cup-winning cohort with a handful of additions and some key players rested.
However, bowlers Jofra Archer and Tom Curran are the only World Cup winners who will be aged under 30 by the time the 2023 tournament begins.
Liam Plunkett, 34, has not been selected to play in South Africa and it seems England have already moved on from the bowler who has played 89 ODIs and took 11 wickets during the World Cup campaign.
Morgan, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali would all be at least 34, although Rashid and Moeen’s role as spinners give them a better chance of survival.
Farbrace said he still expects most of the World Cup winners to be involved in three years’ time but says England will be wary of fielding an ageing team.
|How many of England’s World Cup winners will make India 2023?|
|Player||Age at start of 2023 World Cup|
“Most will want to be there,” he said. “Winning the World Cup at home was brilliant for them and brilliant for the game, but they would like to win it in a different country as well.
“With Morgan, Rashid and Moeen, England will want them to be playing good cricket and not going in with injuries.
“The other thing would be the mobility of them. If you have too many older players who lack mobility and are not so good in the field you will struggle, because in India on small grounds your fielding is going to have to be magnificent.
“It will be a case of wanting their variation and skills but wanting them to be at the top of their game.”
So who could come in?
There were signs of England looking to the future in late 2019 with batsman Tom Banton, all-rounder Lewis Gregory and bowlers Pat Brown, Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson making their T20 debuts during the series win over New Zealand.
Banton, Mahmood and Parkinson have all been included for the series in South Africa, with Brown only missing because of a back injury.
Middlesex and England bowler Steven Finn expects Lancashire fast bowler Mahmood to make many more international appearances.
“Domestically, whenever I saw him on TV last year or when Middlesex played Lancashire he bowled very, very impressively,” Finn told BBC Sport. “He is someone to keep an eye on.”
Somerset batsman Banton, 21, is perhaps the most well known of the trio. He scored a T20 century for Somerset last summer, starred with three fifties in an impressive stint in the Big Bash League this winter and has been described as a “future star” by former England captain Michael Vaughan.
“He could quite easily come into that England team and keep the momentum going,” Farbrace said.
“He is a fantastic player and has been very impressive. Phil Salt at Sussex is another who is very exciting.”
Salt, who has also been impressing in the Big Bash, was called into the England squad as injury cover last summer, although he did not play.
Warwickshire director of cricket Farbrace also highlighted Bears batsman Sam Hain, 24, Warwickshire fast bowler Henry Brookes, 20, Lancashire batsman Liam Livingstone, 26, who has played two T20s for England, and Sussex bowler Ollie Robinson as other players who could be involved.
Robinson, who is Farbrace’s stepson, has taken 137 County Championship wickets across the past two seasons and made his England Lions debut in 2019.
Mission India 2023 – find more death bowlers?
So England have three years to mould a team capable of defending their title in 2023.
To do so they must take into account the conditions they will face on the subcontinent, conditions which are likely to differ greatly to those in England.
England selected 34 players between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups before eventually settling on a stable squad of players in the run-up to the 2019 tournament – the arrival of Archer aside.
Farbrace expects England to employ a similar period of experimentation over the next two years.
“We didn’t nail down our plan for the first 18 months,” Farbrace said. “It was very fluid.
“England will have 15 months of experiment and widening the talent pool and then narrow it down, nailing down the game plan that is specific for India.
“The last three World Cups have been won by the host nation and in 2023 England can expect to find small grounds with flat, high-scoring pitches.
“How well you bowl in the last 10 overs will be an absolutely key part of the next World Cup. Who wins it will have the best bowling attack, not the best batting line-up.
“England will be happy where their batting is at. There is no need to change too much with that.
“The key now is making sure we have enough variety and skill in our bowling.
“There will not be too many wickets with the new ball so you want players who can close matches out and stop opposition batsmen scoring more than 80 runs off the last 10 overs.
“Your yorker bowlers, slower-ball bowlers and skilful seamers are going to play a massive part. That will end up being the difference between the teams.”
Although not part of the upcoming South Africa series, the inaugural ICC Cricket World Cup Super League begins in May 2020 and will form part of the qualification process for India 2023.
Hosts India and the top seven sides in the World Cup Super League will guarantee their place at the showpiece.
England’s first matches in the Super League are a three-match series with Australia in July.
|What is the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League?|
|The 12 Test-playing nations – India, England, Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Bangladesh, New Zealand, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan – plus the Netherlands will compete against each other in a a league.|
|Each team plays a three-match ODI series against eight of the 12 opponents, four at home and four away.|
|Hosts India and the top seven sides thereafter will qualify for the World Cup.|
|The remaining five sides will enter a qualifying event with five associate nations to determine the final two qualifiers for the World Cup.|