by Anurag Hegde
England bounced back to win the series 3-1 having lost the first Test at Centurion. A wounded South African side drew first blood in the series through some fiery bowling performances from Kagiso Rabada and co. But they failed to keep the momentum as England came back hard to win the next three games.
Ben Stokes does it again for England
Great performances and Ben Stokes have become synonymous of late. It was no different on this tour either. Stokes was not only England’s second-highest run-scorer with 310 runs in the series but also England’s third-highest wicket-taker with 10 dismissals. Stokes produced an outstanding spell late on day five of the second test to win England the game when just a handful of overs remained in the day’s play.
After a day of defiant batting, the Protean lower order had no answer to Stokes’s magic. In the very next game, Stokes notched up a glorious century and shared a 203-run stand with Ollie Pope which pushed England’s total to a match-winning 499. His performances with bat and ball have made him an indispensable asset for English cricket.
English youngsters shine at the crease
The opening combination of Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley paid dividends for England. The two young English opening batsmen made the most of their opportunities. Sibley ended the series with an impressive 324 runs at an average of 54 against his name. Ollie Pope was another definite plus for England. He scored some valuable runs in the middle order and gave England’s batting great solidity. He registered his maiden test hundred at Port Elizabeth scoring a match-winning 135 and ended the series with an impressive tally of 266 runs at an average of 88.66.
Questions over Faf du Plessis’ captaincy
For South Africa, at the other end of the spectrum, it was a disappointing series. More so for their captain Faf du Plessis. Questions are being raised over du Plessis’ leadership with South Africa’s winless drought in international cricket continuing. Du Plessis’ own performances with the bat have not been great either. Prior to the final innings in the last test match, he had gone 10 innings without a single score in excess of 30. He ended the series with just 151 runs at an average of 18.87 – not something you’d expect from one of South Africa’s captain and leading batsman. His inability to lead from the front and his reluctance to step down from captaincy has not bode well among many fans and experts alike.
Philander calls it a day
Prior to the series commencing, Vernon Philander, one of South Africa’s premier bowlers announced that the final game of the series at the Wanderers would be his last. The South African camp would have been eager to give Philander a worthy farewell. But it was a sour ending for Philander as he pulled up short of the bowling crease and walked off the field having bowled only 1.3 overs in his final innings. South Africa’s defeat would have only added to his disappointments. He walked off the field for the final time as a South African Test player after being dismissed for 10 in the second innings.
England showed great promise in the series. They produced an all-round performance, and everyone had their moment in the limelight. By winning in South Africa, they have proven that they can dynamically adapt to conditions and play accordingly. Lots of plusses moving forward as the build-up to the Ashes 2020-21 begins. For South Africa, it is definitely back to the drawing board. They seemed deflated and lacked that winning spirit. But no matter what happens, the expectations on South African cricket remains high and they are due to provide their longing fans something to cheer for.