It’s hard to think of a more satisfying win. The Ashes were sweet but they came with a caveat: England played in conditions made to order and we won crucial tosses. We were also overly reliant one two batsmen: Root and the skipper. Let’s face it, we were lucky.
This time it was different. Cook lost the toss and scored no runs whatsoever. Neither did Root in the first innings. Yet England prevailed thanks to a monumental team effort. Just about everyone contributed. All those supposed weaknesses turned out to be strengths. This England team is in fine fettle – perhaps the best state we’ve been in since 2012.
It’s still early in the series – and we all know that England lurch from triumph to disaster far too easily – but I’m feeling genuinely optimistic for the first time in a long time. Thee bowling attack was missing two key cogs (its most skilful member and its fastest) yet it dominated from the very beginning. Meanwhile, our inexperienced batsmen delivered under huge pressure and rescued a precarious position.
England went into the game with question marks above half the batting order (numbers 2, 3 and 5) and our main spinner under serious pressure. These positions were supposedly our Achilles heel. Yet it was these players who did so much to secure victory. Compton looks like the answer at 3. Taylor looks like the answer at 5. And Moeen out-bowled Pietdt in his most consistent performance with the ball since 2014. The spin doctor, Dr Mo, is back! It’s a shame about Hales but you can’t have everything.
South Africa, on the other hand, were exactly who we thought they were. They look like a very average side that’s extremely low on confidence – not a good recipe. They’d be nothing without de Villiers, Steyn and Morkel. Elgar would get into the England side ahead of Hales, but the rest wouldn’t get close on the evidence we’ve seen thus far. What has happened to South African cricket? They’re in disarray.
The Cricket Boks need to make big changes. We’ve heard that de Villiers isn’t going to keep at Cape Town (a humiliating u-turn by their selectors) but this alone isn’t enough. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Kyle Abbott is struggling with a tight hamstring? He looked very ordinary. It could be time to unleash Kagiso Rabada. The young tearaway quick might add that missing spark –as might Imran Tahir. Although Tahir’s test career has had more ups and downs that a cheap porno, England usually struggle against leg spin.
So now we move on to Cape Town. It should be a brilliant occasion. Ticket sales have been very good and there’s bound to be a large Barmy Army contingent. Although Newlands has been a Cricket Bok stronghold for years and years, England go there with huge confidence. South African cricket is in a mess. The politics are toxic and the captain is having an absolute nightmare: Amla’s feet are moving like Jeremy Vine’s and his captaincy has been utterly abysmal.
One feels for the Amla but this is international sport: there’s no room for sympathy or sentiment. England have obviously been inconsistent in the past, so we need to capitalise on our momentum and keep our foot on South Africa’s throat. In the words of Conan the Barbarian, let’s ‘crush them’. How’s that for a call to arms?