England vs South Africa review: Two steps forward, one step backwards

England’s series victory over South Africa, while highlighting the continued resurgence of the English team since the Ashes victory last summer, also served to show that the same frailties that plagued England last summer are still apparent now.

The final test of the series proved to be a consolation victory for South Africa, who bowled the tourists out for just 101 on the final day to secure victory. However, England’s overall victory means that a lot of positives can be taken from the series.

The rise and rise of Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes’ unbelievable 258 from 198 balls in the second test in Cape Town proved just how explosive a player he can be on his day. His stand, the fastest 250 score in history, was a sight to behold; what was as impressive was his ability with the ball as-well.

If Stokes can find consistency in his batting in the next few years, then Bayliss and Cook have a fantastic player on their hands

As the fourth seamer to Anderson, Broad and Finn for the majority of the four tests, Stokes chipped in with 12 wickets at an average of less than 30. His ability with bat and ball gives England an ‘X-Factor’ akin to that of Andrew Flintoff, and is fast becoming a huge asset in the middle of England’s batting line-up.

While averaging over 50 across the series, this was largely down to that tremendous score in Cape Town, with Stokes only reaching 50 on one other occasion. If Stokes can find consistency in his batting in the next few years, much like England, then Trevor Bayliss and Alistair Cook have a fantastic player on their hands.

World-Class Root the heart of a deep England batting line-up

Whenever England post a good batting score, 9 times out of 10 it will be Joe Root who has laid the foundations for them to do so. One hundred and three fifties against South Africa and an average of 55 indicate both his ability and his consistency.

England’s depth in batting is embodies by the fact that a test centurion in Stuart Broad often found himself batting at number 9 or number 10, with Bairstow and Moeen Ali in the lower order perfectly capable of posting big scores. This depth of batting often helped England out of difficult positions, with Ali and Bairstow helping England to salvage a draw in the Second Test and often push respectable scores into positions of advantage for England. With Moeen and Stokes now showing their class more often with the ball, England can afford maintain this depth and still boast a potent bowling attack.

‘World-class’ Broad taking the lead from Anderson

Stuart Broad’s ability to have a match-winning bowling spell is unparalleled in the Test game at the moment. Broad’s 6-17 in the Third Test set England on the way to victory, and was particularly important as James Anderson often struggled to find the right pace and length.

It is surely time to place Broad in that bracket of world-class bowlers, and in pole position to take over as England’s opening seamer once Anderson does retire. Anderson’s resurgence in the final test proved that he has lost none of his potency since injury, especially in being able to find an outside edge.

But the same old issues…

An opening batsman partnering Alistair Cook failing to shine and the middle order having to bail out a top-order collapse. It’s less of an issue, more of a certainty with England.

If Hales is given another chance, it is one he needs to take

Alex Hales failed to show that he has the patience and consistency to translate his ODI form into Test cricket, with just 136 runs over 8 innings, at an average of just 17. For England to threaten the top of the Test rankings, the openers position must be sorted sooner rather than later. However, England are fast running out of options to test out in the position, so it would not surprise me if Hales is given another shot in the position.

Compton looked secure batting at number three at the start of the series, but loose shots in the final two tests highlight the work he needs to do to secure the number three slot, which ultimately hasn’t been filled since Jonathan Trott left the Ashes tour in 2013/14.

With Sri Lanka coming to England at the beginning of the summer, if Hales is given another chance, it is one he needs to take, else England will once again be looking for another opening batsman.

England helped by South African fragility

Ultimately, inasmuch as England won games, South Africa lost them. Their collapse to defeat in the Third Test shows just how much this side has fallen since becoming the number one test side. Hashim Amla’s evident ability with the bat was not enough to save them in this series, with even the experienced AB Villiers ending up with a pair in the final test.

What will serve as a beacon of hope for the South Africans, however, is the emergence of 20-year old seamer Kagiso Rabada, who finished the final test with figures of 13-144, South Africa’s second best Test bowling figures. With Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn to return, South Africa can at least focus on their batting with the assurance that their bowling attack still retains a lot of potency.

By Connor Higgs

Image courtesy of ‘Airwolfhound’ via flickr

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