After England went 2-1 up in Port Elizabeth, Joe Root claimed that he would regard a series victory in South Africa as his greatest achievement to date. A series victory is exactly what the skipper got, too, as his side wrapped up a fantastic win by making it 3-1 in Johannesburg.
England have been brilliant all tour. Their only loss came in the midst of a squad epidemic, which put a number of key players either out or on medication. From then on, they dominated three Test matches and duly recorded three wins, with young guns and seasoned professionals alike stepping up to the mark.
Ollie Pope looks like a man born to play Test cricket, while Mark Wood’s return has really excited everyone affiliated with English cricket. In truth, though, every player has contributed to this result.
A complete performance
This tour really did give England everything it had. There were injuries, illnesses, and quarantines before a ball had even been bowled, but this group’s resolve stood firm throughout. Whether or not these adversities brought the squad closer together is unclear but there is no doubt that fifteen individuals are leaving South African shores with a greater appreciation for one another than they had when they landed.
‘Team spirit’ is one of those overused clichés that does tend to get thrown around somewhat, but it’s applicable here. It helps that they won a Test series, for sure, but that triumph was itself made possible by a notable coherence.
We’ve known for a while now that England boast outstanding individuals (Root, Ben Stokes, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer to name a very obvious five), but it is now clear that they can work together. The first innings in Johannesburg almost acted as a microcosm for the rest of the series, as everyone worked together and seven players hit 30 or more to help the side reach the magical 400 mark.
It’s hard to pick a single player that hasn’t shone at one point or another in this series. Stokes smashed it to all parts in Cape Town and followed it up with a near-perfect hundred in Port Elizabeth, Pope announced himself on the world stage, and Wood returned with a bang. Those three individuals have probably attracted the most attention, but Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Root, Archer, Anderson, and Dom Bess would all normally be receiving just as many accolades.
Such was the collaborative nature of this series from England that we’ve all been running out of room on the page whenever the time has come to dissect the various performances. Suffice to say that everyone seems to have developed during this tour, and the vast majority have stolen the spotlight for themselves at different times.
The Root cause
Missed what the Barmy Army got up to in Jo’burg? Check it out here.
He may not have picked up any ‘Man of the Match’ awards but this tour has been absolutely fantastic for Root. Although he would have loved to convert one of his fifties into a big hundred (and his four-wicket haul into a fifer!), he has answered plenty of questions about his captaincy.
No-one will ever be satisfied with a Test captain’s field settings – it’s always ‘why are there no slips?’, followed by calls for a third man, a deep square, point up, and a man on the drive – but Root has clearly studied his opposite number’s movements in the first innings of games and learnt very quickly. The skipper executed his plans brilliantly and managed his quicks extremely well.
Stokes rightly collected the ‘Man of the Series’ award and a number of other individuals have grabbed the headlines at different times but Root may well be one of the happiest people in that England squad. Hopefully, it keeps people quiet for a while and he can be allowed to get on with, even enjoy, his job.
Many have been calling for Root to be given a chance to concentrate on his batting for a while now and let’s hope that his performance here affords him exactly that.
Same journey, different pitstops
It’s always important to acknowledge both sides in any series and South Africa’s Test side really is in an interesting position right now. After the first Test, they looked like a team on the up. Faf’s boys were rejuvenated following their humiliation in India and the old guard’s involvement behind the scenes had injected a new lease of life into the squad. At least, that’s how it looked.
Since then, their responses with the bat have seen them lose wickets in worrying clusters, (with the second innings in Cape Town the notable exception), and they’ve looked gradually more dejected in the field. It’s clear, though, that the Proteas have talent – in that respect, there are plenty of parallels between them and England.
Both sides have gifted cricketers but have struggled at times to get the best out of them. If England are on the way up, however, there’s very much a feeling that things could get worse for South Africa before they get better. Perhaps the two sides are just at different stages of their respective journeys – every arc looks slightly different and their time will undoubtedly come again. Here’s hoping that the recovery is a swift one, too; a strong South Africa is exactly what the world of cricket needs.
Where to next?
If you’re anything like us, you’ll be rather disappointed that there won’t be any more Test cricket for a month or so. Thankfully, though, there isn’t too long to wait. England’s next appearance in whites will come on 19th March, when they take on Sri Lanka in Galle.
Barring any injury crises, the squad will probably look very similar. There could be a couple of tweaks here and there, though, with another spinner or two likely to be included and a potential recall for Keaton Jennings on the cards. Slower bowlers are an essential ingredient for any successful side in Sri Lanka, and it will be no different this time around. Matt Parkinson, Jack Leach, and Moeen Ali could all be asked to play supporting roles to Bess, who looks set to have claimed that premier spinner’s spot for the immediate future.
That is, of course, all speculation for now. The fact remains that England have been brilliant all tour. They’ve won games by getting runs on the board and putting in complete performances with the ball. Patience remains the key with this young Three Lions squad but let’s enjoy the moment and allow ourselves to daydream about the exciting times that could lie ahead…