Durban (South Africa) – England captain Alastair Cook hailed the performance and potential of his team after they completed a crushing 241-run win over South Africa on the fifth day of the first Test at Kingsmead on Wednesday.
England bowler Moeen Ali (C) celebrates after dismissing South African batsman Kyle Abbott on day five of the first Test in Durban on December 30, 2015 © AFP Gianluigi Guercia
It took England only 80 minutes to take South Africa’s remaining six wickets for the addition of 38 runs, with man-of-the-match Moeen Ali setting the tone by dismissing batting kingpin AB de Villiers with the third ball of the day. He followed up with two more wickets and had match figures of seven for 116.
Cook said a key factor had been batting solidly in bowler-friendly overhead conditions on the first day after being sent in.
“It was an interesting toss, the overheads were suggesting you want to bowl first but the pitch was quite dry,” said Cook.
“We would also have bowled first. It was a matter of getting through that first day. The way Nick (Compton) played really set up the first innings. From that moment on, the guys bowled particularly well to take 20 wickets and we scored enough runs in the second innings.”
Cook said a convincing win against a strong South Africa A team in the build-up to the Test had given the players a lot of confidence. “It was particularly pleasing to back up our form under pressure in a Boxing Day Test match.”
With only a two-day turnaround before the second Test starts in Cape Town on Saturday, Cook said it was important to recover well and to avoid complacency. “It can turn very quickly. They have world-class players so we can’t get too carried away. But it would be nice to get our noses ahead again and to continue to put pressure on South Africa.”
Despite his fifth-ranked side defeating the current Test number ones, Cook said it was too early to predict a period of ascendancy for England. But he said: “The guys have taken big strides forward as a team over the last eight months or so. It’s a good side to captain, there’s a good balance, the guys are happy and they seem really hungry.
“Potentially this team can do some really good things. There’s so much talent in this side. But it will take relentless hard work and good results over a long period of time.”
South African captain Hashim Amla, meanwhile, admitted that his team’s batting had been “most disappointing”, especially following a poor performance on a similarly good batting pitch in the final Test in Delhi earlier this month during a losing series in India.
Amla said his team’s lack of batting form was “a confidence thing” and acknowledged that his own lack of runs was a concern.
“As captain you want to lead from the front not being in the runs is most disappointing from me. It’s a developing team but certainly from my perspective getting runs on the board is most important.”
Amla admitted that regaining form and confidence could only come from scoring runs. “If you get the runs you get the confidence. You can be doing everything well in the nets and working behind the scenes but it’s got to materialise with some sort of runs on the board, especially in the big games.”
Amla said he still enjoyed being captain but ducked questions about possible changes in the team. “I try and leave those things to the selectors. I can only give my opinion.”
He hinted, however, that Quinton de Kock, who has been added to the squad, could come into the side for the second Test as a wicketkeeper-batsman, enabling AB de Villiers to play as a batsman only. “AB’s workload has been great than we expected,” he said.
South African coach Russell Domingo admitted: “We didn’t play half as well as we can.”
Domingo denied there was a lack of harmony in the camp. “From what I’m aware, it’s a happy camp. The players are not happy with their performances but they are all supporting the captain.”
Domingo acknowledged that there was bound to be criticism. “There’s a lot that went wrong but we need to keep the team tight and keep the noise out.”