England skipper Joe Root beaming after third Test demolition of South Africa
Joe Root hailed his young England side for a mature Test match performance as they routed South Africa by an innings and 53 runs in Port Elizabeth.
England’s final-day victory did not come close to matching the tension of their previous win in Cape Town, with more than two full sessions rather than a handful of overs remaining at the end and the result in no real doubt despite a 99-run stand for the final wicket.
But it did represent a considerable step forward for a side who have too often had to scramble for their successes.
Having won the toss they piled on a big first innings of 499 for nine declared and hunted as a group to dismiss the Proteas for 209 and 237.
It is a blueprint for how Root and head coach Chris Silverwood want their team to go about their business in the five-day game and was achieved with five players aged 24 or younger: Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and Dom Bess.
Having seen Sibley score a maiden century at Newlands there were two fresh landmark performances here, with Pope making an unbeaten 135 as well as taking six close catches and Bess picking up his maiden five-wicket haul in the first innings.
“I thought this was a brilliant template for us moving forward as a team: we made big first-innings runs and then really drove the game from that point onwards,” Root said.
“Seeing another two youngsters really step up to the plate in this game and make massive contributions is exactly what we’re after at the minute in terms of our development as a team, and fills the whole group with huge amounts of confidence.
“We are really clear about how we want to play moving forward and everyone has really bought into that. When you have a group of players working towards something collectively you have got a really good chance of making it happen.
“There’s going to be bumps in the road and we’re going to get it wrong on occasions, especially with a young group of players. We’re very much at the start of the journey.
“But as long as the group is willing to learn and put it in time and time again – doing the things that aren’t necessarily the most flattering, the difficult things to do in Test cricket – then we’ll be fine.”
Of all the fresh faces in the current side Pope looks best placed to become a fixture for years to come and Root did nothing to dampen the expectation around a player who has long been touted as a star in the making.
“I think Ollie’s a wonderful player, I really do. I think he’s smart, he reads the game very well, reads situations very well as we’ve already seen in his short international career,” he said.
“I couldn’t be more pleased that he’s sat here with a hundred under his belt already and I want to see another couple at least throughout this winter because he’s more than capable of going on and breaking a number of records for England.”
It took just under two hours to claim the last four wickets England needed at St George’s Park, with Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Bess all striking before a highly improbable 10th-wicket partnership between Keshav Maharaj and Dane Paterson.
Maharaj hammered 71 and Paterson chipped in with 39 not out, with Root’s attempts to turn his career-best four wickets into a first five-for ending in a barrage of boundaries and Test record equalling 28 runs off his final over.
In the end it took Curran’s opportunistic run out of Maharaj to start the celebrations, but Root was never concerned by the late flurry.
“It’s a very difficult situation to captain because there’s no method to where the ball is going,” he said.
“It is easy to look at the last hour too closely but we’ll look at the four days that preceded it: we were outstanding, and that’s what we will concentrate on. We were very clinical in the areas we needed to be, and for us to be sat here 2-1 up, that is the most important thing.”
As for his doomed pursuit of a final wicket, he laughed: “My last five-for was in league cricket playing for Sheffield Collegiate. I think I got eight, but I’ve been a long way off that for a long time. It would have been nice to get it today but I’m not really bothered to be fair.”