By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Despite losing the final Test, England’s cricketers still acquitted themselves admirably by beating (former) world number one side South Africa 2-1 on their home patch. They dominated the admittedly mediocre Proteas in Durban and Johannesburg and were resilient in Cape Town, despite a final day wobble. There were some memorable individual performances and some not so memorable ones. Here are my marks out of ten.
Alastair Cook – 6
Runs: 184 Average: 23
From a purely batting point of view, the series was a bit of a disaster for the skipper who only managed to pass 50 once. In his defence, he kept getting good deliveries and when he did edge them he was snaffled, often by extraordinary catches (Chris Morris). He captained the side well and rotated his bowlers particularly prudently. Maturing as a captain.
Alex Hales – 4
Runs: 136 Average:17
I had my doubts about Alex Hales before the series and I was proved right. He seemed to be in two minds how to play. He should have tried to play à la David Warner (currently the most successful opener in world cricket) but instead he kept getting bogged down (his strike rate was under 40) and, for an opening batsman, gave his wicket away far too easily. Should be retained in the shorter format but he is not a Test batsman.
Nick Compton – 6
Runs: 245 Average: 30.62
A solid if unspectacular return to the Test arena for Compton. He was certainly obdurate (he faced the most balls out of anyone in the England side) and his patient approach to building an innings complements the explosive firepower England have further down the order. He can still be a bit jittery at the crease, however. Certainly deserves to start the English summer as first choice.
Joe Root – 8
Runs: 386 Average: 55.14
England’s Mr Consistent. I dread to think where this team would be without the Yorkshireman’s scores. His 73 in the second innings at Durban was key, as was his century in Johannesburg to give England a lead, albeit a slender one. One slight criticism is that he does sometimes give his wicket away, but equally he shouldn’t curb his natural attacking instincts.
James Taylor – 6
Runs: 186 Average: 26.57
I have always been a champion of Taylor. He has the ability to manoeuvre the ball around the field and to find the gaps (a bit like Graham Thorpe), yet he showed very little of this during the series. Like Compton, he also seemed a bit fidgety at the crease, especially against spin. Nonetheless, his fielding was breath-taking and for this alone he gains an extra mark.
Ben Stokes – 9
Runs: 411 Average: 58.71 Wickets: 12 Average: 29.16
His innings in Cape Town was simply out of this world. He will probably never deliver a performance like that again in his life – it was a once-in-a-career moment. Furthermore, he contributed with the ball in the series too. He is never going to blow teams away like Flintoff or Botham but his bowling is very disciplined and he always chips in with one or two wickets. A very determined cricketer and one who always tries 100% – and demands the same from his teammates. A match winner and a workhorse in one. Invaluable.
Jonny Bairstow – 8
Runs: 359 Average: 71.80 Catches: 19 Stumpings: 1
I have never been the biggest fan of Bairstow but this was a series where he really came of age. In my opinion he doesn’t quite have the requisite technique for this level (I still believe this) but he has a fantastic eye which has made up for his other deficiencies. It seems the responsibility of wicket-keeping has allowed his batting game to flourish too, although he needs to improve behind the timbers, in particular against spin. As good as his 150 in Cape Town was, I was more impressed by his run-a-ball 79 in the second innings at Durban on a difficult pitch to set up victory, and his 30 not out to arrest England’s alarming collapse in Cape Town. Much improved.
Moeen Ali – 6
Runs: 116 Average: 29 Wickets: 10 Average: 48.50
It was a strange series for Moeen. After bowling England to victory in Durban (where 7 of his 10 wickets were taken) he contributed relatively little with bat or ball. I still think he is too much of a bits and pieces player. Batting at number 8 gives him relatively little responsibility and, despite his performance in the first test, he is unlikely to run through a side. Moeen is in danger of becoming the next Mark Ealham and it is up to him and the England management to find a suitable role in the team.
Chris Woakes – 3
Wickets: 2 Average: 98.50
Sometimes, statistics don’t tell the whole story. However, in Woakes’ case, they really do. Even an average South African batting line-up found him unthreatening. He falls into the category of “very good county bowler” but no more. There are plenty more dangerous pace bowlers up England’s sleeve and it puzzles me why Mark Footit wasn’t given an opportunity in the final ‘dead rubber’. Woakes still has a role to play in limited overs cricket for England but a career test bowling average of 63.75 tells its own story.
Stuart Broad – 8
Wickets: 18 Average: 20.61
From being a hit the deck bowler in the early part of his career, Broad has developed beautifully in the last few years into an intelligent yet fearsome operator, not unlike Glenn McGrath. He has realised that he can use his height as a surprise weapon and has found that perfect ‘in between’ length that batsmen hate, alongside an ability to move the ball off the seam. And he has a canny knack of delivering match-winning spells like his 6-17 in Johannesburg. Lead the attack admirably in Anderson’s absence.
Steven Finn – 7
Wickets: 11 Average: 26.09
I’m a big fan of Steven Finn. He has, at times, been treated shoddily by the England management which hasn’t necessarily helped his development, but recently he has found a bit more control whilst still maintaining his incredible strike rate (of current players to have taken over 100 wickets, only Dale Steyn’s is lower). Now and then he can bowl some total dross but he is awkward to face and also has an amazing propensity to take wickets with seemingly innocuous deliveries. He is also the perfect complement to the relentless accuracy of Broad and Anderson.
James Anderson – 5
Wickets: 7 Average: 43.00
Not a vintage series for Anderson – he never really got going and in my opinion he didn’t quite look fully fit. His customary zip was strangely absent but reports of his demise, as suggested by AB de Villiers, are wide of the mark. He may be advancing in years but he can still control the cricket ball as if it were on a piece of string. When he is at his best there is no finer bowler on the planet. Still has a lot to offer this England side.