Impact of pacers and Ollie Pope's rise big positives for England but questions remain on keeper
South Africa might have to endure more pain before things turn around for them
For once, it was not all about Ben Stokes. England won just their second away Test series in four years, when victory in the fourth match in Johannesburg on Monday completed a 3-1 drubbing of South Africa.
Okay, so Stokes was named player of the series for some typical heroism with bat, ball and in the field. But England will be buoyed by the contributions made by some of the other guys, as they look ahead to Tests that follow this year.
Kevin Pietersen might prefer to face Mark Wood than Jofra Archer “all day long”, as he wrote on social media midway through the series. But there can’t be many batting line ups that would choose to face both of them.
As ever with England, it feels as though their Test side is planning ahead with a view towards the next Ashes series.
That is in Australia next winter. If Wood and Archer are fit and can bowl with the pace they have shown this year, they would be a frightening prospect on the fast Australian pitches.
“It brings the best out of both of them,” Joe Root, England’s captain, said at the end of the series.
“If they are both fit and raring to go when we go out for the Ashes, it would be very, very exciting to see what would happen in Australia.”
The start of the last English county season was chiefly memorable for two reasons. First, it was played in a sandstorm at the ICC Academy in Dubai. Second, Ollie Pope scored a mammoth double century, for Surrey against MCC in the Champion County fixture.
Not long after, Pope’s prospects of featuring in one of English cricket’s most gilded international summer’s ever was harpooned by a serious shoulder injury that required surgery and a long spell on the sidelines.
On the evidence of the South Africa series, the 22-year-old No 6 is in a rush to make up for lost time.
His 135 not out in the win in Port Elizabeth brought with it rave reviews, as well as a glut of predictions that England have a new great in their midst.
England crush Proteas 3-1
Buttler not doing it
England found the answers to a lot of lingering questions in South Africa. Pope is here to stay. After the relative success of Rory Burns in the Ashes summer, Dom Sibley would appear to be another opener they can hang their hats on. And maybe the same goes for Zak Crawley, too.
But who should be keeping wicket? It is still a major problem area. Jonny Bairstow was furious to have been displaced behind the stumps by Jos Buttler. Bairstow is not even in the team anymore, but his replacement with the gloves has hardly covered himself in glory in the Test format.
With England heading to Sri Lanka next, it must be the time to reconsider Ben Foakes for a recall. He is commonly considered the best gloveman in England – and he scored a match-turning century on debut the last time England toured Sri Lanka.
Fixing the problems that ail South African cricket was never going to be an overnight job for the new all-star cast employed for the task ahead of this series.
But it feels unlikely that Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis would put their names to something that is destined to fail.
It could get worse still before it gets better, though. Vernon Philander has now walked – or maybe limped is more fitting, given his torn hamstring in Johannesburg – away from the international game.
Losing players of the pedigree of Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in quick succession is no small thing. Finding worthy replacements will be one of the biggest challenges for the Proteas’ new brains trust.
Updated: January 28, 2020 04:15 PM