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?
I’m particularly happy with the performances of Compton, Taylor and Ali….bit concerned about Stokes and Woakes but England wouldn’t be England with not worrying over something
James I’m unsubscribing with the strictly and vine (the wrong one) references.
I’m less optimistic. One test doesn’t mean we’ve cracked it. Some progress but still many of this England side are inexperienced and performances need to be sustained. That said I agree that there are encouraging signs.
Note to self. More Strictly references for my old mucker Teece :-)
great to come back from a busy and noisy Christmas with grandchildren to the peace and quiet of home and watching Test cricket. Perfect. I enjoyed this game very much and was particularly pleased to see Compton just quietly getting on with it and making his mark. I am sorry to introduce a petty note here, but found it hard not to smirk when the Golden Boy was out for a duck and then cheaply in the second innings and ees and I know I should not feel like this but afraid that,in my eyes, Cook has shown himself to be a man I cannot like. And that makes no difference to the fact that the rest of the team just got on with it and played really well. Taylor is a nippy little batsman and I find myself becoming more and more confident that when he comes to the crease he will do well,, Root turning into a great batsman if he is not one already, and as you say James a great team effort.
Thought Woakes did a more than decent job. He is never going to be in England’s first choice attack but is a more than capable back up. In a 5 man attack it’s no bad thing to have one of your 4 seamers who’s more of a holding bowler.
It’s a big year coming up for Stokes – we know what he’s capable of but he really needs a run of scores because he is potentially the best all-rounder in the world, the time is coming however where ‘potential’ becomes a bit of a millstone.
I agree that Stokes needs some runs. The talent is clearly there but his career stats show he’s inconsistent. But I have faith.
Agree with most of the article. Newlands will be the main challenge and possibly the key to how the rest of the series goes. Not convinced by Hales or Woakes as test standard players.
I tend to agree re: Woakes (and Hales) but Woakes is really 2nd reserve. There’s both Jimmy and Wood to come back. I don’t know how England choose between Finn and Wood when he’s fit. Both more than useful. Nice dilemma to have.
I don’t think we’ve necessarily improved, we’ve just stopped picking the wrong players. Anyone with any sense has been calling for Compton and Taylor to be in the team for some time now.
Not sure about Hales. Its not that I don’t think he’s good enough, he’s just a) out of form and b) its difficult, nigh on impossible to switch from T20 style batting to test cricket. Scoring at 10 an over for 10 overs and scoring at 4 an over for 50 overs are totally, completely different skill sets.
Buttler and Morgan both found the same thing. I’ve long advocated that there should be zero overlap between the England Test and T20 squads.
The risk is, if we push him too hard, he will lose the attacking instincts that make him so special in the shorter formats.
Love the blog but Bairstow doesn’t get a mention? The press have been similarly begrudging in its praise and focussing on the missed stumping.
Hi Tom. I talked quite a lot about Bairstow the day before yesterday but yes I should have mentioned him here too. I think he did really well. Whereas he looked a slightly dodgy 5, he’s certainly a very useful 7. He kept better than AB de Villiers too. I’m pleased for the lad. He’s beginning to show his talent with the bat.
I just read it and retract my criticism! Interesting that four players who were mismanaged by previous regimes thrived in the last test – Compton, Taylor, Bairstow and Finn. All talented in their own way with the potential to thrive at test level. It appears that England now have a leadership team that backs talent rather than undermines it – Stokes and Mo being good examples. Neither are having to play with the the constant threat of being dropped as Bairstow did for most of his previous time in the team. Happy New Year!
Yes, the previous regime was pretty decent at identifying test players, but dire at managing them once picked.