A new-look Proteas team suffered emphatic defeat by the flawed, but at times brilliant, English tourists. Yet, the series wasn’t all doom and gloom for South Africa.
Team director Mark Boucher took charge of the Proteas less than two weeks before the start of the series, but his real work kicks off as the dust settles on a 3-1 defeat.
Playing against a world-class opponent such as England – a team challenging for the World Test Championship – has shown the Proteas where they are strong and where they need to improve.
So much has been written and said about the Proteas being a team in transition. For many this might come across as a lame excuse, but the fact remains that the team have been stripped of experienced players and several franchise players have been asked to step up to fill the void.
Before the series, Rassie van der Dussen was singled out as the best-prepared uncapped player, and he has proven himself to be a Test-quality batsman.
There is still plenty of room for growth from Van der Dussen, but he faced more balls than any other Proteas batsman and came closest to bringing up three figures. Van der Dussen has the appetite for the tussle that the Proteas need going forward. If he can find a way to balance defence and attack more efficiently, he could become a middle-order stalwart across all three formats.
The lack of runs from senior players will cause Boucher a great deal of consternation, but one man who lived up to his reputation was Quinton de Kock, who ended the series as the leading run-scorer.
De Kock was a consistent source of runs for the hosts as well as being the most aggressive of the Proteas batsmen, while also crossing 200 Test-wicketkeeping dismissals faster than anyone in history.
The Proteas will also take heart at the health of their pace stocks as they prepare for life after Vernon Philander. Anrich Nortje and Beuran Hendricks have a lot to learn, but they have the raw materials to be Test quicks. With Lungi Ngidi set to return from injury and Kagiso Rabada now at least four exuberant wicket celebrations away from another suspension, pace bowling is the Proteas greatest strength.
Keshav Maharaj also showed that he could potentially grow into an all-rounder or at the very least a handy lower-order batsman and, despite playing only three Tests, he bowled more overs than any other bowler.
Boucher might want to draw inspiration from the work Justin Langer has done with Australia. Langer was the subject of intense criticism and even ridicule in a tough first year on the job, but he stuck to his guns and trusted the process and quickly restored Australia to a place among the game’s elite.
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