By Kieran Wellington
- Despite a convincing loss in Centurion to open the series, Joe Root‘s England side bounced back in some style to win 3-1
- Root presented a different character in South Africa to the introverted leadership he had previously displayed last summer and in the series defeat to New Zealand, guiding his young troops to produce brilliant performances on the pitch
- There were five sanctions handed out by the ICC in this series (three for England, two for South Africa), posing questions about how far the governing body should go to protect the spirit of cricket without impacting on the competitiveness of an already endangered form of the game
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – Captain Joe Root has signalled England’s dominant 3-1 series victory in South Africa may signal the start of something special for his Test team: but who will become a key part of this new era, and whose performances belong in the past?
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Zak Crawley – 6/10 – 3 matches, 163 runs @ 32.66 – Still needs to convert promising starts into a big score to cement himself in this side, but is one of the five under-25s in this squad to excel in this new-look England. Clarity has been provided by the England hierarchy regarding the batting lineup’s game plan, and being thrown in to replace the established opener in Rory Burns, especially after a defeat, is never easy. Crawley steadily improved match-by-match, which can only be positive, and his top score of 66 in Johannesburg was part of a century opening partnership – England’s first in nearly four years.
Dom Sibley – 8/10 – 4 matches, 324 runs @ 54.00 – The Warwickshire batsman defied the critics who decried his technique against pace bowling with a terrifically measured, and unbeaten, 133 in England’s second innings at Cape Town which helped set up a Test victory and set the framework by which all of England’s top order went about their business. Some may argue he can look cumbersome at the crease, but who cares when he actually makes runs at the top of the order? His and Crawley’s stand of 70 from 31 overs in Port Elizabeth was, incredibly, the first instance since 2011 that a pair of England openers went an entire opening session of a Test unbeaten.
Joe Denly – 6/10 – 4 matches, 210 runs @ 30.00, 2 wickets @ 37.5 – Not pretty, but effective from the elder statesman of the side. At 33, he is learning as much at Test level as the openers above him but is living on borrowed time – when Denly gets dropped, you can’t see a way back for the Canterbury-born batsman. However, he showed plenty of guts, grit and determination in blunting the South African attack, allowing the more expressive middle-order to open their shoulders against tiring bowlers which is a throwback to the tactics of old-style Test cricket. His leg-spin may be a useful asset in the subcontinent too, and with Burns definitely out for the trip to Sri Lanka, the ‘two from Crawley/Burns/Denly’ debate can be postponed for a while longer.
Joe Root – 8/10 – 4 matches, 317 runs @ 45.28, 4 wickets @ 47.5 – Led from the front with the bat as per usual, despite a slight change in technique, but impressed everyone with his leadership in the field, where he exhibited a much more active role, buzzing around the place and putting an arm around certain youngsters at the right time to fire England to three convincing victories. Taking 20 wickets abroad has been a big issue for England in recent years, but Root seems to have found the formula. Learning how to use the press to his advantage, and not being so prickly and aloof when answering tricky questions, has also been a big development this winter. England are undoubtedly in a transitional phase, but all the young lads seem to hang on Root’s every word. Needs to keep his and his team’s feet on the ground however, as this is a very poor South Africa side.
Ben Stokes – 8/10 – 4 matches, 318 runs @ 45.42, 10 wickets @ 22 – The ‘golden nugget’ in Cape Town, taking the last three wickets with time running out to wrestle England over the line almost single-handedly once more. He played all sorts of innings throughout the series, at times going up the gears, batting selflessly for the team in order to open up more time for the bowlers and at other, more precarious, points knuckling down and showing the fight everyone associates with Stokes. Had to dock a mark for his appalling outburst directed towards a young fan in the final Test – there is no excuse for such an outburst, even in the heat of battle.
Ollie Pope – 9/10 – 3 matches, 266 runs @ 88.66 – The outstanding member of England’s impressive batting lineup, Pope looks to have gained some divine inspiration from somewhere to bat with great maturity and technique. Can tell he loves constructing an innings, manipulating the field with a virtually limitless arsenal of strokes and knows instinctively when to drop or to up the scoring rate. As an added bonus at short leg, the Surrey man possesses a tremendous pouch in the field, which will serve his side well for years to come. One wonders whether England would’ve completed a clean sweep if Pope hadn’t been a victim of the sickness bug that ran riot throughout the tourists when they arrived in South Africa, forcing him to sit out in Centurion.
Jos Buttler – 3/10 – 4 matches, 115 runs @ 16.42 – Has averaged less than 30 in every series since the last tour of Sri Lanka, and seemed to be the only England batsman who was unsure of his role in the side. With Eoin Morgan getting no younger, perhaps it is time for Buttler to end his Test experiment and lead the ODI side to a World Cup defence in 2023, being the vice-captain of that side and with an unheralded record in the white-ball format (the two quickest ODI centuries ever made by an England batsman are both by Buttler). Was also sloppy with the gloves, and has never been regarded as England’s most talented ‘keeper. It won’t be a surprise to see Ben Foakes line up in Sri Lanka.
Sam Curran – 6/10 – 4 matches, 130 runs @ 18.57, 10 wickets @ 32.6 – Incredibly Curran has the worst average of any of the pace bowlers to line up for England, despite a solid performance. It is clear the 21-year-old – despite his Test debut being over 18 months ago – is learning a lot at Test match level and without possessing enough pace to trouble batsmen when the ball isn’t moving off the straight he is having to hone his skills and become a canny bowler. His ability to extract any swing on offer and the left-arm angle makes the Surrey man a useful option in any Test squad, but has plenty to prove going forward. A few more runs with bat in hand would help his cause: didn’t bat with the same authority he showed on debut vs India.
Chris Woakes – 6/10 – 1 match, 32 runs @ 16.00, 3 wickets @ 28.3 – Woakes is now Mr. Dependable for Root and England. Is never likely to be flavour of the month when touring, as he is a traditionally English bowler without electric pace like Wood and Archer nor providing a different angle like the aforementioned Curran. However, he will run in all day and when he hits his length, can extract variable bounce which can trouble the most set of batsmen. Will be itching to prove he is one of England’s four best Test bowlers, and that competition for places is a luxury for England. Should encourage excellence.
Mark Wood – 9/10 – 2 matches, 95 runs @ 47.50, 12 wickets @ 13.6 – Man of the Match in the final Test with 9-100: the best match figures for an England paceman overseas in 12 years. Having worked hard to lengthen his run-up in an attempt to improve his injury record, Wood still possesses genuine pace, enough to make the best in the world sharpen their focus. If the coaching staff can keep the Durham man fit, Wood is a genuine triple threat.His obvious skill with the ball is now bolstered by his carefree ability to wield the blade with great effect and his infectious personality lifts everyone, a crucial element of any successful side. Has made it clear the Johannesburg performance made him feel like a true England player. Let’s hope that new-found confidence can help him go from strength-to-strength.
Stuart Broad – 8/10 – 4 matches, 61 runs @ 15.25, 14 wickets @ 19.4 – Without going on a quintessential Broad hot streak, the second-highest England wicket-taker of all time has quietly picked up the most wickets for his side in yet another series. His experience and leadership qualities are invaluable to Root during this transitional phase, and he is still clocking the speed gun at around the high 80s – Root will hope the 33-year-old echoes the assertions of partner-in-crime James Anderson, who claimed he can continue into his 40s, as per The Sun.
Rory Burns – 7/10 – 1 match, 93 runs @ 46.50 – Burns has made history for this England side during this series, despite featuring in the only defeat. He has finally managed to get the cricket team to stop playing football. The hapless 29-year-old was ready to establish himself in this developing side, but ruptured ligaments in his left ankle while challenging for the ball in a warm-up instead, which has already ruled him out of the Sri Lanka series. However, his 84 in Centurion matched with his Ashes performances will be enough for him to muscle his way back into contention when fit.
Jonny Bairstow – 1/10 – 1 match, 10 runs @ 5.00 – Bairstow needs to get back to basics. England dropped him on the basis that his red-ball form was nowhere near Test level and was told to go away and play some county cricket. However, thanks to the sickness bug that decimated many of England’s players just before the Centurion Test, Bairstow came back into the side without having faced a single ball of red-ball cricket since he was dropped. It was therefore always likely to end in disaster, as his measly 10 run-effort shows. Ollie Pope’s form means he can now truly focus on getting back to what made him a key part of England’s side in all three formats. Thankfully, his white-ball form shows no signs of being on the wane.
Dom Bess – 7/10 – 2 matches, 1 run @ 0.33, 8 wickets @ 25.75 – Became the third-youngest England spinner in Test history to claim a five-wicket haul in Port Elizabeth after showing maturity beyond his years in a holding role during the Cape Town victory. Was unlucky to be dropped for the final Test, as any team with prolonged success in the Test arena needs a spinner. Is the man in possession for the Sri Lanka series in March, where the spotlight will be on the Somerset finger-spinner to show what he has learned from Sri Lanka legend Rangana Herath when he was away with the England Lions.
Jofra Archer – 5/10 – 1 match, 7 runs @ 3.50, 6 wickets @ 27.8 – Archer’s elbow soreness prevented the Bajan from adding to his six wickets in a losing cause in Centurion, and unfortunately makes the sound of his critics’ voices more vociferous by the Test. It is only under the intense spotlight of an England-international sportsman that a person can go from being the next big thing to a talented flop ready for the scrap heap in the matter of months, but Archer’s match-winning ability means every action is analysed and evaluated to within an inch of its life. It might not be fair, but Archer needs to get used to it if he wants to succeed in all three formats, which he is determined to do.
James Anderson – 8/10 – 2 matches, 4 runs @ 4.00, 9 wickets @ 19.9 – Could this be Jimmy’s last ever series away from home? Without wanting to rush him back for a potentially fruitless Sri Lanka series with the subcontinental conditions in play, and with the Ashes in 2021/2 still way out on the horizon, the Burnley Express may have made its last continental stop. He is ageing like a fine wine, however. Since turning 30, the Lancashire seamer has taken 314 wickets at an average of just 23.90, and since his 35th birthday, Anderson has claimed 102 Test wickets at an average of 20.67. His rib injury didn’t affect the outcome of this series, but if it is the last we see of England’s most successful bowler ever overseas, it is the end of an era unlikely to be matched in some time.
South Africa play England in the first ODI on Tuesday 4 February at Newlands, Cape Town.
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