LONDON: Joe Root has praised a “fabulous” team performance as he started his reign as England captain in almost perfect fashion at Lord’s.
“Everyone has played their part this week,” Root said after England completed a crushing 211-run victory. “It might not have been a six-for or a fifty, but there were crucial periods where guys showed character.
“Everything I asked of the lads, they were very open to and responded to it. I wanted us to be proactive, to stay ahead of the game and when there was an opportunity, to take responsibility. Everyone at certain points did that and it’s important we continue to do that if we are to take this side forward.”
England have already named the same 12-man squad for the second Test at Trent Bridge, which begins on Friday. Barring injury to any of the seamers – and the fact they were barely used in the fourth innings and have an extra day off now suggests they should be fine – an unchanged team is expected. While it would be unusual for England to play two spinners at Trent Bridge, they would argue they are playing only one – Liam Dawson – with Moeen Ali picked as a batsman.
In truth, England’s surplus of allrounders – Chris Woakes will be pressing for a recall before the end of the series – leaves them with something close to a luxury position to fill as they see fit. At Lord’s, they could have chosen a legspinner, a specialist keeper, another batsman – perhaps a specialist in the top three – or even a match-winning but potentially unreliable seamer such as Mark Footitt.
As things stand, they have chosen to go with Dawson. Though few would claim Dawson is the best spinner in England – he may well not be the best at Hampshire – he offers a good all-round package topped by his ability to offer his captain control in the field, a trait that complements England’s seamers, while his presence also alleviates any expectation upon Moeen to fulfill a holding role. It’s not ideal and it won’t always work as well as this, but as this was the first time two England spinners claimed 14 wickets in a home Test since 1972, it can only be considered a success.
Root credited the presence of his two key allrounders – Moeen and Ben Stokes – for giving his side enviable depth with bat and ball. “That’s the great thing about our top seven,” Root said. “We have two really good bowling options with Moeen and Ben and that’s a real luxury.” There were two obvious standout performers in England’s win: Root and Moeen.
Root’s batting was a level above anyone else’s in the match. He enjoyed some fortune in scoring his first 20 runs, but he took advantage in ruthless fashion. Before this match, Root had converted only one of his last seven Test half-centuries into a three-figure score but the captaincy seemed to add an edge to his game: a hunger; a determination to push on and register a match-defining total. While he modestly referred to his form as “nice” afterwards, it is telling that Moeen was the only other man in the match to reach 70.
The statistics relating to Moeen are staggering. Having reached the double milestone of 100 wickets and 2000 runs in fewer Tests than Sir Garry Sobers, et al, on the second day of this match, he subsequently claimed the first 10-wicket haul by an England spinner at Lord’s since Derek Underwood in 1974 and the first by an England offspinner since Roy Tattersall in 1951. He also became the first England player to claim a 10-wicket haul and score a 50 in the same Test since Ian Botham in 1980. While Shane Warne was never able to earn a place on the Lord’s honours boards, Moeen – who has often been referred to as a part-time bowler by Warne – now does.
These are great names and significant achievements. While nobody – least of all Moeen himself – would claim he was a spinner in the class of Underwood or Warne, or an allrounder in the class of Botham or Sobers, he has developed into a very valuable player nevertheless. The bowling average has moved below 40, the batting above 35 and there’s no reason why they should not continue to improve.
Here, partly as a result of his work with Saqlain Mushtaq – for whom he dedicated this performance – he showed ever more cunning in his variations of pace. The delivery which bowled Temba Bavuma was significantly quicker than those that preceded it.
At one stage, he threatened to equal Wasim Akram’s record of a wicket in six consecutive overs before falling one short.
Rather typically, he described some of the attention surrounding his achievements as “embarrassing”, though he did concede that the match represented “the best all-round performance of my career.”
“Maybe in India I was trying to fire the ball in a bit,” Moeen said. “I learned a lot from that tour. My natural pace is quite quick anyway. Here I had a different mindset and I was trying to attack the batsmen more. It’s nice to do this at Lord’s. It means a lot.”
There were other important contributions. Jonny Bairstow’s second-innings half-century shut South Africa out of the match, while some of his keeping was outstanding. The diving take down the leg side to dismiss Heino Kuhn was the most eye-catching moment, but the wicket of Kagiso Rabada – an edge held off an attempted cut – was impressive too. The hard work he has undertaken with Bruce French and others is clearly starting to pay off. A debut for Ben Foakes, which really might have been quite close a week or so ago, suddenly looks distant.
And, as 19 wickets fell on the fourth day, the value of England’s obdurate batting the previous evening became more apparent. Alastair Cook, one of only two men to reach 35 in the third and fourth innings, made the most valuable contribution. But Gary Ballance’s second-innings 34 and Keaton Jennings’ 33 were worth more than a quick glance at the scorecard might suggest. Root reckoned they were “worth double.”
There is a caveat to all this. South Africa, it has to be said, made some basic mistakes with their catching, their use of the DRS, the over-stepping of the bowlers resulting in no balls and, most of all, their batting against spin. It is improbable they will play as badly at Trent Bridge. But this was pretty much a perfect start for Root and his team.