England skipper Alastair Cook believes his side’s victory over the Proteas is the start of something special, as they secured an overseas series win for the first time in three years.
The roles have been somewhat reversed since the Proteas beat England in 2012. England were the No 1 side in the world going into that series, but a run of poor performances leading up to it left them vulnerable, which was exposed by the Proteas as they leapfrogged to the top.
England’s seven-wicket victory on a brutal third day at the Wanderers confirmed an unassailable 2-0 lead, and with that, South Africa’s removal at the top of the ICC Test rankings. England will remain No 5, regardless of the outcome in the fourth Test at Centurion, which shows that they are still far from the finished article. However, Cook believes they’re very much on the right track.
‘If we keep doing the right things we should be able to do something special,’ he said. ‘It’s a privilege to captain these guys, because they can change the games as quickly as that.’
Both sides went into day three with the match tantalisingly poised with England on 238-5. England’s 10-run first-innings lead gave the Proteas a solid platform for victory with their opponents needing to bat fourth, but Stuart Broad ruined that with his devastating spell of 5-1 in 36 balls. It was the seventh time in his career that he had taken five wickets in one spell, and it was enough to earn him Man of the Match accolades and a place at the top of the Test bowling rankings.
‘Broady was outstanding,’ said Cook. ‘He just thought “this is my time” and jeez, he bowled well. We knew that, on this pitch, if you could hammer it down on the top of off stump at good pace with the new ball and make them play, it would be really hard.’
‘It’s a very special moment for the team,’ said Broad on the series victory. ‘Winning in South Africa is certainly not an easy thing to come by. It’s something we’ve worked very hard for. We got a bit lucky with the conditions; it was a really good time to bowl but you’ve still got to take your catches and create pressure. It was a perfect day for us.’
The quality and form of the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes have breathed new life into a steadily improving England unit since their group-stage World Cup exit last year, and Cook believes the victory against the Proteas, which continues an unbeaten run in South Africa that stretches back to 2000, will go down as one of his finest.
‘It will be one of those days that we’ll look back on for a long time and I’m very lucky to have led the side here and playing with the players I have played with. I’m really proud of the lads but also pleased for them,’ he said. ‘Pakistan [in the UAE before Christmas] didn’t quite go our way and I felt we deserved more out of it. But we’ve got our rewards for sticking together and playing good cricket.’