England’s 2-1 series victory over South Africa shows just how much progress this emerging England cricket team have made under the stewardship of Trevor Bayliss but, equally, it masks some of the deficiencies that are still absolutely evident to a critical eye. It would be insulting to the efforts of this young and extremely talented squad of players to say that they did not deserve to win the series but it is all too easy to read too much into a victory over an, admittedly, depleted South African team who find themselves in somewhat of a transition period. That said, an away series victory in South Africa is a welcome marker of the progress England have made and there are still many positives to be taken.
Perhaps the most obvious positive aspect of this tour has been the emergence of Ben Stokes as a genuinely world class all-rounder, a position England have struggled to fill since Andrew Flintoff’s retirement. Stokes showed his batting chops with one of the most spectacular innings in English Test cricket history, smashing a gargantuan 258 runs from only 198 balls. This innings in itself would have been exciting enough to declare Stokes’ tour a revelation but he also impressed with his bowling, displaying a new level of control, consistency and menace, and fielding where he was as consistently brilliant as ever.
Finally, we might be seeing the emergence of the player Ben Stokes has threatened to become for so long. If he can produce these kind of displays with this level of consistency then England have a genuine superstar on their hands.
There is also much positivity to be found in the ongoing good form of Joe Root. The young Yorkshire batsman continues to impress, with a series of crucial scores highlighting his importance in this English batting order.
Likewise, Stuart Broad’s performances have shown just how comfortably he has grown into the role of leader of England’s bowling attack and his efforts have been rewarded with a place at the top of the Test bowling rankings. However, England’s management team will not be resting on their laurels. There are still significant problems with this England side that must be rectified if they are to live up to their stated ambitions.
First and foremost, England must consolidate their top order batsmen, whether by chopping and changing personnel or finding a recipe to turn Alex Hales and Nick Compton into international Test batsmen. Alastair Cook remains one of the premier openers in Test cricket but Hales looks uncomfortable opening the batting in red ball cricket, displaying precious little of the brutal yet inventive hitting he is renowned for in limited overs cricket. This has been an ongoing concern for England with a procession of promising individuals trying and failing to establish themselves as Cook’s partner. Eventually one must stick or this England side will be shorn of crucial stability in their batting order. Likewise, Compton has done little to cement his place at number three and will need to consider whether he has the game to play internationally or if he is little more than a modern day Mark Ramprakash.
Another serious worry is the lack of any return to form from Jimmy Anderson. England’s leading Test wicket taker will need to show he can return from the injury that prevented him taking part in much of this series or else his place may be in question within the next year, especially given the volume of cricket England will be playing.
There is much to hope for from this England team and they have every chance to reclaim their former position as the world’s premier Test team. However, there are clearly areas which will need work. Fans will be hoping for just a little extra sprinkling of that Bayliss magic.
Image courtesy of Nic Redhead