A year that began with a lot of uncertainties hanging around the future of English Cricket ended with a somewhat startling victory that painted a crystal clear picture of the things to come, as England completed their demolition job of South Africa by an enormous 241-run margin. Few would have seen it coming – not the victory, but the manner of it, especially when England’s recent run of form (four defeats in their last eight test matches prior to this test) is taken into consideration.
There were all sorts of problems concerning the batting order, the bowling combination hadn't been worked out, and then there were the general troubles you would expect off a team lacking experience. South Africa were no different in this relation either. Yet, when the two took the field, England looked the more mature of the two, which is partly down to Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace, and partly to Alastair Cook’s own nous, which, he used to a great effect.
The way they played, England appeared to be at home. They assessed the conditions very well, adjusted themselves accordingly, laid their plans down and stuck to them throughout the course of the five days. The bowling changes Alastair Cook made, and how he timed them, it was all perfect and another example of how the England Captain has improved in this particular aspect of the game.
However, what made this win even more impressive is the fact that England didn't need telling contributions from Alastair Cook and Joe Root's bat to do it. For too long, England's over reliance on their two best batsmen has stood as one of their biggest weaknesses, but here, that weakness disappeared, even if temporarily, as Nick Compton, James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow batted beautifully under pressure.
Moving on, it’s important that England try and replicate the win at Durban. All the great test teams of the past – Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh’s Australia or even Graeme Smith’s South Africa – they could all do it over longer periods of time and it was never surprising to see them win in a manner as emphatic as England’s over South Africa, may it be at home or away from home.
Progress for England isn't securing a “perfect” victory here, and then following up with an absolute battering at Cape town as that takes them back to where they started. Progress would be to build on this victory, and perform on an even higher level, come the second test. Progress would be to win many a few high-intensity games such as these, and get better game by game. Progress would be not shocking anyone with a big win - it should be a routine.
Everyone's had enough of watching England make the best look ordinary in patches. Now's the time to make it a habit to do justice to their own talent. Yes, they are inexperienced, and still not fully aware of the vagaries of the great old game, but that's not a reason to be inconsistent, just ask Imran Khan and he might tell you something.