By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • England produce their best when it matters to beat South Africa by 177 runs and win the series 3-1
  • Moeen Ali, Johnny Bairstow and James Anderson play starring roles at Old Trafford
  • Here are five key takeaways from the Fourth Test
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – After Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow and James Anderson guided England to an impressive 177-run win over South Africa in the Fourth Test, here are five things we learnt from the match.

 

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Moeen Ali has become a key player

After Moeen Ali took 10 wickets to guide England to victory in the First Test at Lords, Head Coach Trevor Bayliss told The Guardian that the spinner ‘wants to be in the team as a batter who bowls a bit’.

However, Moeen’s performances in this 3-1 series win over South Africa clearly illustrate that he is actually in the team as a spin bowler who bats a bit, so it is an intriguing psychological ploy by the England cricket team to allow the player to believe otherwise. But as long as Moeen continues to produce excellent displays with the ball, it is a façade that is likely to endure.

England’s premier off-spinner took 25 wickets in the series, including ten at Lord’s, a hat-trick at The Oval and 5-69 in the final innings at Old Trafford. He also scored a total of 252 runs, with the bulk of those coming from 87 in the First Test and a crucial unbeaten 75 in the second innings of the Fourth Test. These stats underline what an important player he has become for his country, and he was deservedly named Man of the Series for his efforts.

 

England must find right batsmen for problem places

Even though they recorded their third impressively convincing victory to win their first home series against South Africa since 1998, England cannot be entirely happy with the four matches because they are still yet to solve the problem positions of No2 and No5 in the batting order.

Since making 112 in his first Test innings in India, Keaton Jennings has scored 182 in 11 innings at an average of 16.55. He is woefully out of form and it is easy to wonder whether he is actually good enough to play international cricket at all. If England believe he has what it takes, they should include him in their Ashes squad, but it would be unfair not to give someone else (probably either Haseeb Hameed or Mark Stoneman) the chance to take his opening berth for the upcoming three-test series against West Indies.

Dawid Malan was picked to bat at No.5 after Bayliss was impressed by his blistering 78 in his Twenty20 International debut in June. It is a curious basis for Test selection, as T20 success does not indicate that a player has a technique that is solid enough to withstand Test-quality bowling. South Africa found Malan easy to dismiss and he only made 35 runs in four innings during the series.

Perhaps the Middlesex batsman deserves a few more chances, but England would be unwise to ignore the brilliant recent performances of established international cricketer Alex Hales, who backed up his superb T20 form with an astonishing run-a-ball 218 in the County Championship this week.

 

Anderson is still England’s best bowler

England must be worried about how they can ever replace James Anderson, who has taken 487 wickets, when he eventually retires. However, the Burnley seamer seems determined to save them the trouble for as long as possible by continuing to produce exceptional performances.

Despite taking 5-72 at Trent Bridge, Anderson had (by his standards) a quiet series until the Fourth Test at his home ground of Old Trafford. Then, perhaps buoyed by the honour of bowling from the newly-named James Anderson End, he shone in both innings to take 4-38 and 3-16 respectively.

The paceman is the first player ever to have bowled from his own end, and he told BBC Sport that the experience was ‘a bit surreal, difficult to describe but it’s a huge honour’. Having an end named after him is a deserved reward for the amazing career Anderson has had so far, and England will be hoping he plays for a few more years yet.

 

Bairstow keeps getting better

With Moeen stealing the headlines and Anderson bowling from his own end, it might be easy to forget the contribution Jonny Bairstow made to the fourth test. When he came to the crease with England at 187-5 in their first innings, it was up to him to ensure the home side reached a big enough total to set a platform for victory.

Bairstow did exactly that by scoring 99 off 145 balls. He did not panic when wickets fell around him and accelerated accordingly when he only had tailenders left for company. He deserved a hundred, but had to be content with his third fifty of the series after 51 at Lord’s and 63 at The Oval. His innings at Old Trafford also secured second place in list of highest run scorers in the series behind Joe Root.

And it is not just his batting that has been impressive. Despite some uneven bounce on helpful bowling wickets, he has missed very little behind the stumps and will be happy with a tally of 17 catches in the series.

 

South Africa’s batting line-up underperformed

It was very much a case of too little, too late for South Africa as three of the best innings by their batsmen in the series came when those matches were almost lost. Dean Elgar battled his way to the team’s only hundred as they fell 239 runs short in the Third Test, then Hashim Amla scored 83 and Faf du Plessis 61 in a losing cause in the Fourth Test.

To make matters worse, the only match when several batsmen batted well in both innings was the Second Test at Trent Bridge. They won there by a massive margin – 340 runs – but their batsmen were unable to replicate this display at any other time in the series. Consequently, Temba Bavuma averaged 32.12, du Plessis 28.50 and Quinton de Kock only 23.12. Admittedly, Amla and Elgar averaged more, but crucially so did five England players.

All of this analysis comes without even mentioning the failures of Heino Kuhn, who averaged 14.12 in eight innings, and JP Duminy, who scored just 17 runs in the First Test and was promptly axed. The uncomfortable truth for South Africa is that they would not need to pick either Kuhn or Duminy if AB de Villiers, arguably their greatest-ever batsman, had made himself available for the series. Against opposition of England’s calibre, it would appear they need him.

However, South Africa captain du Plessis has a different view. He told BBC Sport, “We have to move past the hope of him coming back and find someone who is going to fulfil that role. If he comes back it’s a huge bonus, but I don’t expect it.”

England play host to the West Indies, starting 17 August.

Main Image: Photo by Paul Currie/BPI/Shutterstock/REX/Shutterstock

 

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