Winners and losers from England's tour of South Africa
England’s two and a half month tour of South Africa was a series of ups and downs for both teams, though neither side should walk away feeling too disappointed with their respective performances.
The tour kick-started with a four match Test series spanning over a month and which ended in a 2-1 victory to England. There were two additions to England’s team for this tour, with Alex Hales coming in as the new opener and Nick Compton returning to the Test side at number three after his omission in 2013.
1st Test, Durban: England won by 241 runs
2nd Test, Cape Town: Match drawn
3rd Test, Johannesburg: England won by seven wickets
4th Test, Centurion: South Africa won by 280 runs
In his first innings back, it was a pleasure for fans to see Compton top score with 85, a welcome sight for a man who was perhaps unlucky to be dropped after his first stint in the Test side. Though Hales didn’t exactly have the most idyllic of starts to his test career, the likes of Joe Root and James Taylor continued impressive form to display a strong batting line up for the tourists.
Perhaps the most definitive, or at least the most memorable moment of the series regarded the phenomenal striking of Ben Stokes, who once again proved why his name has been mentioned alongside such illustrious figures in English cricket as Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff.
Ben Stokes' double century in Cape Town was a spectacular display
Stokes’ powerful innings rivalled performances like that of opposition captain AB de Villiers and ensured it was the most talked about innings of the series. In terms of their bowling Broad was once again phenomenal, his six-wicket haul in the third Test being the most notable performance; while Moee Ali proved he was just as competent away from home as he is on English soil.
While England put on a strong display in all departments, it would be a mistake to think that South Africa’s Test performance was by any means weak. Individually the team produced some very good performances, with Elgar and Steyn showing their brilliance in the first game with bat and ball respectively.
The loss of Steyn in the second innings of that game to injury was a significant blow to South Africa and his presence was missed throughout the rest of the series. However, while a side is always going to miss the class and experience of a talent like Steyn, their newer recruit Rabada proved more than useful with the ball, taking 13 wickets in the last game alone and exemplified how exciting young, up and coming South African players are.
Kagiso Rabada (fourth left) was outstanding for the Proteas
Speaking in terms of new players, the last Test saw Stephen Cook make his debut at the age of 33 and although perhaps older than most debutants he proved why the selectors were correct to place such faith in him, scoring 115 in his maiden international game.
However it was Amla who, unsurprisingly, once again led the way for South Africa in terms of batting, with scores of 201, 109 and 96 following his declaration that he was stepping down as captain.
From the perspective of both sides there were a number of individual performances that stood out as potentially match winning, however in the end it was England who had the edge, with strong batting performances being backed up by threatening bowling. Though the series did not end in a similar vein, England will take great comfort from their performance away from home, continuing their Test revival; whilst South Africa will look for a more consistent performance, especially in regards to their batting which at times looked fragile.
The drawing to a close of the Test series signalled the beginning of a few months dedicated to limited overs cricket for both teams, with the ICC World Twenty20 on the horizon. The series ended in a closely fought 3-2 victory to South Africa, having come back from 2-0 down to clinch a series that they had come within inches of losing.
1st ODI, Bloemfontein: England won by 39 runs (D/L)
2nd ODI, Port Elizabeth: England won by five wickets
3rd ODI, Centurion: South Africa won by seven wickets
4th ODI, Johannesburg: South Africa won by one wicket
5th ODI, Cape Town: South Africa won by five wickets
While many have criticised England, whose loss of three consecutive games determined the result, it could be considered harsh to lay too much emphasis on what they did wrong considering they were exceptionally close to being series victors.
Though there are undoubtedly areas to improve on, perhaps most notably in terms of fielding and ‘reading the game’ which were recognised by Trevor Bayliss at the end of the tour, it is also important to acknowledge some of the quite spectacular performances that were churned out throughout the series.
Perhaps the most exciting of which came in the first match of the series, England setting South Africa a mammoth 400 to win after a spectacular return to form for Buttler after his recent omission from the Test squad. His 73-ball century was yet another example of this new-look England squad’s ability to play aggressively and how they can challenge any bowling line-up in the world; while Reece Topley proved how formidable he can be with ball in hand.
In terms of South Africa, Quinton de Kock stood out, particularly in the first three games in which he scored two centuries; while De Villiers proved that no team can keep him quiet for long with a century in the final match.
Chris Morris of course must be mentioned for one of the most decisive moments in the series with his onslaught of 62 off 38 balls to revive South Africa from 210 for eight and put them in not only a winning position but a series saving one.
Chris Morris rescued South Africa during the ODI series
Again special attention must be paid to Rabada who is proving to be an exceptional talent in all formats. Another encouraging aspect for both sides was the strength in leadership for the two teams, particularly in the forms of aggressive and innovative field placings, as well as faith in their players; either in terms of bowling crucial overs or promoting batsmen up the order after assessing the game situation.
The performances of both sides throughout the ODI series proved just how much the game has progressed, even over the last few years, especially in terms of higher batting totals and the importance of the final few overs for both bowlers and batsmen.
The Twenty20 series, although only two matches long created an exciting end to what has been a well fought tour played in a great spirit by the two sides. Though perhaps not the most ideal of warm-ups for England looking ahead to preparation for the World Cup in India next month, it is hard to be too critical of a limited overs team that performed so well in summer and had won their previous five matches in this format of the game.
1st T20I, Cape Town: South Africa won by three wickets
2nd T20I, Johannesburg: South Africa won by nine wickets
England could be considered unlucky to have lost the first match, once again being undone in the final overs by Morris, but they were thoroughly beaten in the final match by nine wickets.
While many see these two games as a bad omen for the forthcoming World Cup, the experience England have gained has been invaluable and will put them in good stead for the tournament as they can work to address the weaknesses in their game.
However, what is perhaps the most exciting aspect of this England team is as aforementioned their fearlessness in the batting department, their ability to set challenging targets for their opponents and to play an aggressive brand of cricket that has been somewhat lacking from previous England teams.
From South Africa’s perspective their five consecutive wins in the series have definitely proved fruitful in terms of their own preparation for the global tournament, proving to have strength in both the batting and bowling departments.
A return to form for AB de Villiers in the ODIs was a welcome boost for the home side
Certainly with de Villiers performing well the South African team will be a formidable force in terms of title contention. In terms of their bowling, it will be interesting to see how young talent Rabada fairs, having proven himself as both capable and dangerous in all formats of the game; as well as Tahir who will be a crucial factor in subcontinent conditions.
It will be interesting to see how the two teams perform in the ICC World Cup, from the youthful exuberance of a new-look England team to the more experienced shoulders of South Africa.
If this recent series is anything to go by, both teams will perform with an explosiveness that will make for unmissable viewing.
© Cricket World 2016