England skipper Alastair Cook praised Moeen Ali for his Man of the Match performance in the first Test, adding that the loss of the ‘once-in-a-generation players’ has hit the Proteas hard.
England have gone 1-0 up in an away series for just the second time since 2004 thanks to their 241-run victory over the Proteas. They went 1-0 up against Bangladesh in 2010, while Port Elizabeth was the venue 12 years ago. If they want to make it 2-0 however, they have to do something they haven’t done in 59 years – win at Newlands. Cook believes his side are well placed to do it.
‘There is a big opportunity that presents itself when you play like that,’ he said. ‘It would be great if we can continue to put pressure on South Africa. We’ve got an opportunity now but can we take it?’
‘Potentially this team can do some really good things. There’s so much talent in this side. We feel balanced, the guys feel happy and really hungry to push on. You see them – from one to 17 in this squad – and I think there’s good times ahead.’
England showed the quality of their depth in the bowling attack, as Moeen Ali produced one of his finest bowling displays to date, picking up match figures of 7-116, while Steven Finn, who wasn’t even originally part of the squad due to injury, took four key wickets in the second innings.
‘The wicket on day four from Finn in the last over was a really big one because Du Plessis has a record of batting a long time with De Villiers,’ said Cook. ‘So to get that and Mo producing that third ball to get AB out, you couldn’t ask for a better start could you? It’s never easy bowling on the last day of a Test when it is turning because people are expecting you to take wickets. But the way Mo bowled was fantastic – he bowled brilliantly.’
‘Every single ball was there or thereabouts and that’s all you can ask for. He can be very proud of his performance under pressure. It’s different from a first innings; the onus on you in the second is to deliver and he did deliver.’
When asked about the Proteas’ struggles, he was keen to change the subject, but he did mention their failure to replace a number of players who have retired in recent years.
‘It’s not for me to talk about. They’ve lost some world-class players and that changes the balance of the side. When you lose people like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, they are once-in-a-generation players and hard to replace.’
‘The danger is the word complacency. That won’t be in our squad – that’s not where we’re at as a side. It can turn very quickly. So let’s not get too carried away.’