England’s recent victory in the second Test Match against South Africa has been applauded for a number of reasons, injecting a newfound sense of belief in a team that appeared to be mired in crisis.
Injury problems, an illness that had run through the squad, and the disappointing run of away form in Test cricket that has seen Joe Root’s side lose back to back games against both New Zealand and Faf Du Plessis’s troubled South Africa team; mean that England’s victory in Cape Town must have felt that bit more special.
For England there are many positives to take from this win, with the only drawback being the injury to Jimmy Anderson that has resulted in his early return home. Ben Stokes once again showed that he is the best and most exciting all- round cricketer in the world, as his quick fire 72 in England’s second innings, five catches in the match (a side of his game often overlooked, Stokes is a wonderful slip fielder) and spirited bowling display on day five inspired England to victory.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the words that to do justice to Stokes’s gargantuan performances. Time and time again he manages to defy physical expectations and the rules and logic of cricketing form, to put in man of the match performances for England across all formats of the game. We are so lucky to have him.
Another cause for optimism is how England’s top order faired. Dominic Sibley’s maiden test century in only his fourth test match came off 311 balls, and in an era of Twenty20 franchises, flashing bails, coloured gloves and ever more audacious scoop shots, Sibley’s old- fashioned grit and solidity is a fantastic addition to the England team.
The flirtation with Jason Roy as an opener was proven to fail over the summer, admittedly against the best bowling attack in the world in Australia, but in Cape Town Sibley saw off and overcame the formidable task of Kaigso Rabada and Vernon Philander to produce a brilliant knock.
England’s best opening pair this century has been Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, but since then there has been a constant struggle to effectively replace them. Strauss retired in 2012, and for the next six summer and winters, Cook was partnered with twelve different opening partners, a stat that demonstrates the ridiculous changing and chopping that was done by the ECB selectors.
For years this has meant that the sight of the number three, four and five batsmen nervously strolling their way to the crease whilst the ball still has plenty of shine on it, has been commonplace in English Test cricket, often exposing the side to many middle order collapses, another feature of English cricket over the last few years.
However, whisper it, but in Rory Burns and Sibley, England may have found a pair that could serve them well at the top of the order for time to come. Indeed, Burns and Sibley even look like Test openers. They’re ugly and unorthodox in style, they both leave well, both strong of their hips, both at their most vulnerable driving outside off – what’s not to like? Perhaps I’m getting carried away, and as all cricket fans know, there is a long road ahead for the pair to travel down before they can establish themselves as a successful opening partnership, even if the early signs are promising.
Other positives that England can take from this win include the performances of other young players such as Ollie Pope and Sam Curran. It’s hard to imagine the former being anything other than a rock of England’s middle order for years to come, whilst Curran continues to display his knack of picking up crucial wickets at crucial times.
The next test begins in Port Elizabeth on 16th January, where England hope they will be able to reproduce the stellar performances of this famous Cape Town Test.
Image: Biplab_Anand via Wikimedia Commons