England v South Africa series review: 3 takeaways
Ollie Robinson bowls Dean Elgar out
England eased to victory over South Africa in the third Test at The Oval on Monday to complete a remarkable 2-1 series win in just over two days of action.
Here, AFP Sport looks at three talking points from a series which capped a fine first season for England under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum:
The nine-wicket victory at The Oval meant England had won six out of seven Tests since the new leadership team of Stokes and McCullum took charge at the start of the season.
The pair repeatedly emphasised their commitment to play attacking and aggressive cricket and it yielded dividends against New Zealand, India and South Africa.
Whether the “Bazball” style is a completely new approach is open to debate but there is no denying the changed mood in the England camp.
When Joe Root was still skipper last year, the team showed no interest in chasing a relatively modest target of 273 off 75 overs after a bold declaration by New Zealand captain Kane Williamson at Lord’s.
But this season there has been no such caution, with the home batsmen pulling off a string of impressive run chases.
At The Oval, faced with a small victory target of 130, struggling openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley shared a century stand in 17.2 overs – England’s fastest hundred partnership for the first wicket in Test history.
The pair had already broken the record once before this season with a century stand in 19.5 overs as England chased down an imposing target of 378 in a seven-wicket win over India at Edgbaston in July.
Ollie Robinson’s recall for the last two Tests of the South Africa series was a huge boost for England.
The 28-year-old Sussex seamer was criticised in January for a lack of fitness by England bowling coach Jon Lewis during the Ashes tour of Australia, and later given a stern talking to by Stokes as well.
But he ended up with 12 wickets at a miserly average of 15 in his two Tests against South Africa as England came from behind to win.
Robinson, who only made his England debut last year, has now taken 51 wickets in 11 Tests at an exceptionally low average of 19.80.
Since World War II, only one England bowler has taken more wickets at a better average — express quick Frank Tyson, whose 76 Test wickets cost just 18.56 apiece.
Robinson was unavailable earlier this season due to a combination of injury and illness.
Stokes, asked by AFP if it had been tough to tell the bowler some hard truths, replied: “No, it wasn’t difficult at all. Criticism is something that if I ever deliver it, it is purely based on what I feel is the best for that individual to progress as a player.
“It’s something I did with Ollie and we’ve seen the impact he’s had on these two Test matches. He’s a phenomenal bowler. We all know that – he knows that as well.”
The Proteas have one of the best fast bowling line-ups in the world but not even their quicks could save them every time their batting failed.
South Africa managed just one fifty in the series – opener Sarel Erwee’s 73 in their innings victory at Lord’s – and their lack of runs caught up with them in the subsequent two Tests against England.
“We’ve always been up against really tough batting conditions,” said South Africa captain Dean Elgar.
“In saying that, England’s bowlers will always execute that to a fine art as well.
“It was a massive learning curve for a lot of us, there are a lot of young guys in our batting line-up. In a sense that is positive but it is still disappointing to not get the results in our favour.”