Chris Silverwood takes pride as England’s plans begin to come together in South Africa

You gotta love it when a plan comes together. While Chris Silverwood didn’t even have his A-Team on the park in Port Elizabeth, his players gave their best impression of a formidable outfit that fell off TV screens before many of them had even been born. Either way, their coach could be forgiven for reaching for a cigar and channelling his inner Hannibal Smith.

While the protagonists of that 1980s hit show were driven by the desire to clear their names, England’s youngsters, in particular, have looked hell-bent on making a name for themselves in South Africa and Silverwood is proud of the squad environment that has allowed them to play that way.

“We saw the template that we are trying to put into place in this game,” Silverwood said after England’s innings-and 53-run victory at Port Elizabeth which handed them a 2-1 series lead with one Test to play in Johannesburg from Friday. “Heavy first-innings run, then scoreboard pressure to try and take 20 wickets. It sounds really simple but there’s a lot of hard work gone into that.

“The great thing is we are moving towards the template we want to use in these matches. We are learning, that’s the top and bottom of that. We are assessing conditions really quickly, we have a lot of skills in that bowling attack we can use at any given point. We are learning.

“I knew the youngsters were there, that’s the thing. My job is to create the environment that they can thrive in – feel comfortable in, confident in and go out and express themselves.

“One of the pleasing things for me is those guys have talked about that in their press interviews so it means what we’re doing behind the scenes is working. It’s still a work in progress, we haven’t cracked everything by a long way and still have lots to learn to get where we want to. But at the same time there’s some real positives coming out.”

The third Test featured a good balance of success between England’s newcomers and old hands. On the bowling front, Dom Bess‘s first-innings five-for was followed by Joe Root’s four-wicket haul second time around (only mildly soured by that record-equalling 28 runs off an over in the closing stages). While England’s solitary innings was underpinned by centuries for Ollie Pope (his first) and Ben Stokes (who passed 4000 runs in the process). In the second Test, another emphatic victory for the tourists after their defeat at Centurion, it was Dom Sibley who stood out with his first hundred in just his fourth match at this level.

In a further boost for the good vibes in England’s camp, South Africa appear unsettled, rattled even, with captain Faf du Plessis suggesting the Wanderers Test could be his last on home soil and Kagiso Rabada banned for one demerit point too many after his forceful celebration of Root’s wicket on a frustrating first day in Port Elizabeth.

But it may not be all bad for the hosts, who gain strength in the form of Temba Bavuma, Andile Phehlukwayo, Keegan Petersen and Beuran Hendricks returning to their squad from the domestic ranks, where Bavuma struck a first-class career-best of 180 last week.

And, as Silverwood is at pains to point out, England are not the finished article.

There are question marks over the fitness of Jofra Archer following his elbow injury and fellow speedster Mark Wood’s readiness to play back-to-back Tests will be carefully monitored after Port Elizabeth marked his return to action since suffering a side strain in the World Cup final in July. That said, Chris Woakes is said to be training well and is yet to play a part in this series.

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“We’ve got a couple of sessions coming up so Jofra will bowl then and if he’s fit that’s another great headache isn’t it? I’ve got to find a way that potentially he comes back in and at the same time we’ve got Woakesy sat there as well. He’s been bowling beautifully,” Silverwood said. “So we’ve got options available to us that is again superb. Jofra today felt good so hopefully he’s going the right way.

“You look at the bench we’ve got, they’re working incredibly hard and there’s so much talent there and so much experience. We need that as well. We talk about the youngsters a lot but we need the experience dotted in amongst it as well so they can learn by getting it right rather than making mistakes all the time.”

The England bench also includes Jonny Bairstow, dropped after scores of 1 and 9 in the first Test, while Jos Buttler is struggling after failing to reach 30 in five innings this series. So long as the top three can continue to do a job for the tourists, albeit a “boring” one as du Plessis put it, the plights of Bairstow and Buttler are less pressing concerns.

“If we keep getting 490 I’m happy with that,” Silverwood said in response to what was actually praise from du Plessis. “They’re picked to play in their way – it’s as simple as that. They don’t get told how to play.

“We pick a team that will try and get us big first-innings runs and the top three have laid some fantastic foundations time and time again for us to go on and get the big scores. We’re learning to do that now. As I’ve said before we’re not the finished article by a long way but for them to go out and do it in this game and win will give them a heap of confidence. The team is picked to get us where we want to go.”