The past two days haven’t been the best for England out in Cape Town. They’ve dropped catches, spent between 150 and 200 overs in the field and only managed to take five South African wickets. Amla got a double century, under pressure Bavuma made a free-flowing debut century and du Plessis ground out a fifty under immense pressure. Despite scoring over 600 runs in the first innings, England’s lead was all but wiped out and even faced six tough overs at the end of the day. We’ve gone from being in a great position, to almost having no chance of victory.
Despite that, I still feel incredibly positive about all sides of this England side.
If you compiled a list of the best eleven test players in the world, there would be at least three, if not four, English players in it. Alastair Cook would have to open, and probably captain too, with Joe Root in the middle order and Stuart Broad as part of the attack. Realistically, James Anderson would probably feature too.
We all know Cook, Broad and Anderson’s achievements in cricket (and thankfully I no longer have to defend Cook’s captaincy). In a few years time, all going well, Root’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Cook, as Tendulkar, as Lara et al. But England’s strength doesn’t end there.
In Durban, Moeen Ali delivered a man of the match performance. Steven Finn was out of the side for a long time but has come back to take 20 wickets in five tests and looked like our best bowler in the latter half of 2015/early 2016. Ben Stokes won’t deliver all the time but has the potential to score as explosively as he did on the second day of this test match.
James Taylor has a couple of fifties since his return to this stage and Nick Compton returned with a fifty and a forty, two innings which helped win an away test. Even Alex Hales has a fifty in only his second test.
A brilliant first eleven is only helped by real competition for places. The only guy I haven’t mentioned, and one who is playing very well indeed in South Africa, Jonny Bairstow has Jos Buttler breathing down his neck. Both are very exciting wicketkeeper-batters who both have the ability to take a match away from the opposition in a couple of hours. Rightly so, Bairstow has the gloves for now, but he’ll know that any drop in performance and Buttler can resume the mantle. On the other hand, Buttler has the role in one day cricket and can use that to remind the selectors of his worth.
Gary Ballance is out in South Africa ready to be called upon should we need a change in the batting line up. Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan and Adam Lyth, all with test centuries, remain at home. Dare I even mention Kevin Pietersen?
Our strength is even more apparent in our bowling department. Mark Wood has never let England down in his performances so far, Liam Plunkett is improving all the time, Mark Footitt is on the brink of a test debut and the Chris all-rounders Woakes and Jordan offer reliable options with both bat and ball. An injury to Anderson, Broad or Finn, as Durban showed, is no longer disastrous to our chances.
On top of all of that, we have a one day side which are going into a T20 world cup in the subcontinent as genuine contenders. I’m sure I’ll write more about them later, I’m only using them now as an enforcer for how good a state English cricket is in.
Draw or lose in Cape Town tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. England are currently 1-0 up in a four match test series between, what looks like, two evenly matched sides in South Africa. Ever since Peter Moores got sacked, England have had a massive change in approach. A positive change, an attacking one. The dressing room no longer seems splinted or too reliant upon results. Our cricketers seem happy, relaxed and enjoying playing for England, even Alastair Cook seems more content with life as captain.
England have suffered some dark times in cricket, and it’s too soon to say the good ones are returning. However, what we can say is that this is a young England side, driven not by results but a desire to play. It’s that desire which makes them more watchable, more likeable and potentially more successful than the eras gone before them.
Whatever happens tomorrow, England cricket is in a good place and I’m positive about the future.