The test series was a mixed success, since the extremely competent displays of the first 3 matches was spoiled somewhat by the disarray on display in the final match in Centurion. I’m sure the England team will be hard at work on rectifying the issues in both formats of their game, but what lessons will England have taken from their test tour in South Africa? Here’s what I think:
Alex Hales probably isn’t a test opener: sad as it is for me to admit as I enjoy watching Alex Hales bat, he doesn’t seem to be cut out for opening the batting in test matches. Hales had eight innings but averaged a lowly 17.00 runs with only one match of the series being against the world’s previous number one bowler Dale Steyn. The most disappointing inning Hales played was in Johannesburg: England only needed 74 runs to win the match but Hales was unable to see the match through, scoring 18 before getting out LBW to Dean Elgar, who is to international off spin bowling what Queen Elizabeth is to MMA fighting. I would like it if Hales could be given more of a chance but, as with Adam Lyth, he has consistently failed to perform in a variety of match situations and, as such, I doubt he will be picked again for Pakistan and India’s tours this summer.
Jonny Bairstow thoroughly deserves his place in the test team. England seem to have an issue with their two best keepers in that they are both unable to play well with the gloves and bat consistently. He kept superbly in Johannesburg, taking 9 catches and achieving a run out over the two innings, as well as scoring 45. Then in Centurion, he dropped two catches of key men and scored 14 runs in two innings. England coach Trevor Bayliss referred to him as a “work in progress” and I think he deserves to stay in the side. His performance alongside Ben Stokes in Cape Town proved to me that he is an excellent test batsman and has the composure and ability to make it at the highest level. To all the doubters of his batting, he answered with a composed and measured 150* alongside Stokes’ ballistic 258.
England’s bowlers are a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes. On their day, no side can keep up. Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Stokes have now decimated Australia and South Africa in passages of play redolent of the dominant bowling sides of history. In the series, Broad took 18 wickets, Stokes 12 and Finn 11 though Finn played one fewer test. When you consider that James Anderson had a quiet series by his supreme standards, taking only 7 wickets at an average of 43.00, this is extremely exciting for English cricket. Broad in particular was a primary factor behind England’s victory in Johannesburg with figures of 12.1-6-17-6. This spell of bowling proved that his performance at Trent Bridge during the summer was not a fluke and that he thoroughly deserves the recently gained accolade of number one test bowler.
The final lesson is that, between Hashim Amla and Moeen Ali, the beards on display have been truly astounding. International cricket is a better place for the beards. All hail the beards.
In the one-day series, there have also been several talking points.
As a one-day opener, Hales has been domineering. His figures speak for themselves: 383 runs in five innings at an average of 76.60 has proven him a destructive batsman at the top of the order. The reason for England’s demise in the latter end of the series has been the inability to build partnerships (and occasionally hold catches), but Hales has been the brightest of positives from the 3-2 series loss. Between him and Jason Roy, England are guaranteed something exciting to happen at the top of the order; indeed Roy bats as though his shoulders are electric motors that are stuck at maximum velocity.
Jos Buttler is a confusing one. In the first two matches, he scored a combined total of 153 runs from 104 balls. He was more powerful than a deadlifting rhinoceros, hitting the ball as cleanly and smoothly as Galaxy chocolate covered in Fairy liquid. Between the third and fifth match, however, he scored 1 run off 8 balls, including two golden ducks. Perhaps it was smart fielding placement and excellent bowling, which was certainly a factor in the third and fifth matches respectively, but a man with the capability of humiliating bowling attacks shouldn’t go three matches with only a single run to his name. I love Jos Buttler. I love watching him bat, and I have a man crush on him, but England need to work out a way of maximising his potency and ensure he does not go half a series of one-day matches without runs, as England are a substantially lesser side when he does not perform.
The bowling statistics of the series also indicate an area for England to work on: the fast bowling. Reece Topley was extraordinary, taking 10 wickets at an average of 21.90; an average only bettered by Kagiso Rabada, who has a case for being the overall man of the tour. Topley was not backed up by his teammates, however, as England’s next two highest wicket takers were Moeen and Rashid with five wickets apiece with Rabada, Abbott and Tahir all placing ahead of them with 25 wickets between them. A key reason for South Africa’s success was regular wicket taking and those three men managed to squeeze England at different times with extreme success. England’s next highest seam wicket taker was Ben Stokes, who took four wickets at 54.50. England’s seam bowlers must be more disciplined if England hope to be successful at the T20 World Cup in India in March.
There have been several notable positives from England’s tour of South Africa, and I am optimistic that England will perform well at the T20 World Cup. The side is in much better shape than before the embarrassing 50 over World Cup last year, with Joe Root and Alex Hales scoring runs aplenty, Jos Buttler capable of changing a game within three overs and Reece Topley developing into a very effective opening bowler. All that remains now is for Mark Wood to come back into the side and the beard balance will be perfect. All hail the beards.