Joe Root believes England have found a template that can help them win the 2021-22 Ashes in Australia. While delighted by the 3-1 victory over South Africa, Root was also encouraged that his team had found a method that could serve them well in future challenges.
In particular, England’s captain was thrilled by the prospect of taking two fast bowlers to Australia and the progress his side had made in adopting to a new approach to Test cricket. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood both claimed five-wicket hauls during the series to help the England attack bowl South Africa out twice in all four Tests – something they have historically struggled to do with the Kookaburra ball – while England’s batsmen, embracing a more cautious approach, posted totals of 400 or more in successive innings for the first time since March 2013. They also recorded three individual centuries, while South Africa’s batsmen didn’t make any.
“We’ve got a great template to work around and it’s nice to see it falling into place,” Root said. “We put things in place this winter about the way we want to play. It has taken time and it will continue to take time for us to stay consistent and adapt to different conditions but we are learning quickly.
“It would have made a big difference to have Jofra and Woody in Australia last time, I do believe that. It’s something you feel that you need in those conditions.
“One of our big learnings as a team is that we have taken 20 wickets in every game. That is something we have struggled with in the past when abroad with a Kookaburra ball.
“There’s still a huge amount of Test cricket to be played before the Ashes. But this does give us confidence and it also gives us knowledge about how to perform on wickets that might be similar.”
Most of all, though, Root was proud of how his side reacted to the adversity they experienced in the opening weeks of the tour and the manner in which young players had come into the side and “taken their chance”. England lost four players who could reasonably be described as first choice – James Anderson, Jack Leach, Rory Burns and Archer – to illness and injury for most of the tour, while their performance in the first Test was hindered by the sickness bug that swept through the camp. But Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope scored maiden Test centuries, while Dom Bess claimed a maiden five-wicket haul. All three are aged 24 or younger.
“It has been a huge effort by the players, the support staff and the management,” Root said. “We have had to dig deep collectively. It would have been very easy for us to go off the rails after that first game but we stuck tight together. Even losing Burnsy and Jimmy we made sure it was not going to change how we went about things and it gave opportunities for young guys to take their chance.
“I’m really pleased not only that the young guys have stood up on this tour, but that the senior players have created an environment that allows that to happen. Young guys are coming into a very good environment and succeeding. The senior players are providing that environment and delivering as well. I am really proud of everyone.
“The last afternoon in Cape Town was probably the turning point of the series. For us to finish off that game was fabulous. We caught very well and we took our opportunities with time running out through just sheer hard work and determination. I think that gave us a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence.
“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.”
Despite his joy, Root accepted England had a long way to go before they could considered themselves the finished article.
“We’ve done extremely well in the last three games but in the last three years we’ve not been consistent enough,” Root said. “We’re very open about that.
“We go to Sri Lanka next and then we have three big games at home against West Indies. So it’s a great opportunity to string a number of good performances together. We’ve got to keep looking to get better and keep developing.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.