Joe Root and Ben Stokes are daring to dream that England’s 3-1 series win in South Africa can provide the blueprint for reclaiming the Ashes in Australia.
England wrapped up a 191-run win on day four of the final Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, dismissing their hosts for 274 to complete a memorable hat-trick of results having edged a thriller in Cape Town and triumphed by an innings in Port Elizabeth.
The success has been built on just the foundation stones that captain Root has called for, big first-innings runs to establish scoreboard pressure and the ability to take 20 wickets away from home.
England’s bowlers have dismissed the Proteas in every innings on tour, a major step forward given their rocky relationship with the Kookaburra ball that is used by the likes of South Africa and Australia.
With Mark Wood offering consistent express pace in the last two matches, Jofra Archer doing similarly in the first Test before injury struck and Stokes taking man-of-the-series honours for his all-round excellence, Root’s toolkit looks to have been seriously upgraded since he oversaw a 4-0 defeat Down Under in 2017/18.
The return trip does not get under way until the winter of 2021, but things are heading in the right direction.
Asked if their work over the past six weeks pointed the way for the next tour of Australia, Root said: “Yes. It does give us confidence and it gives us knowledge of how to perform on wickets that might be slightly similar.
“We’ll try not to look too far ahead but we’ve got a great template to work around and it’s nice to see it falling into place.
“There’s a long way to go between now and then. But (the pace of Wood and Archer) would have made a big difference last time, I do believe that. It’s something you need in those conditions.”
Stokes, who missed the previous Ashes tour due to the fallout from his scuffle outside a Bristol nightclub but went on to play a starring role in last summer’s 2-2 draw, has also got Australia in his sights.
“Obviously we’re building for that series,” he said.
“Having Woody and Jofra on the pitch at the same time would be very, very exciting to see what would happen in Australia.
“To have them in the same attack brings out the best in both of them. If they are both fit and raring to go when we go out for the Ashes, then that will be good.”
Wood on his current form is a game-changer, having taken 12 wickets at 13.58 and rattled almost every South African batsman with his speed and trajectory.
His fragile fitness has held him back in the past, though, and he is taking a reserved view of future endeavours.
“It would be a dream to play in Australia and try to win there, but the way the recent past has gone it’s not case of looking that far ahead,” Wood said.
“We were joking about my body coming in to the game…there’s times I thought I’d never play Test cricket again.”
Root was just as keen to dwell on the achievements at hand as the challenges ahead, hailing the character of a squad that was beset by illness at the start of the tour and lost Rory Burns, James Anderson, Jack Leach and Archer to injury.
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Referencing the three-word philosophy that has guided English cricket in the past couple of years, he said: “A big part of our three teams is our three pillars: courage, respect and unity.
“We have shown those in abundance throughout this trip and it has made a massive difference to our performances on the field. It would have been very easy for us to go off the rails after losing that first game but we stuck tight together.
“This has been a huge effort by the players, the support staff and management and we have had to dig deep collectively.”
The last word belonged to Stokes, who scored 318 runs, took 10 wickets and 12 catches – all after seeing his father Ged falling seriously ill on the eve of the series.
“It’s been a rollercoaster with everything that has gone on. I hope my old man was in his hospital bed watching this with a big smile on his face,” he said.