England wrap up impressive win over South Africa
The tourists were not flattered by the 241-run winning margin in Durban, steam-rollering the world’s No 1 side with six wickets in 24 overs to wrap things up before lunch on day five.
It has been a mixed year for Cook’s side, including the sacking of coach Peter Moores, Ashes success under his replacement Trevor Bayliss and disappointing away series against the West Indies and Pakistan. But, while the Proteas look to be a side at the end of a dominant cycle, there may be a bright future ahead for this England side.
They had not won in their previous four Tests before Kingsmead, but Cook was optimistic ahead of a brief two-day turnaround before the second Test in Cape Town.
“Over the last eight months or so the guys have taken big strides forward as a side. Potentially, this team can do some really good things,” he said.
“This a good side to captain; we feel balanced, the guys feel particularly happy and really hungry to push on.
“You see the guys training – from one to 17 in this squad – and think: ‘There’s good times ahead’.
“There are going to be some tough times, there always are, but it was a pleasing five days.”
Cook has seen too many turns of the wheel in his own career to be blinded by one result, particularly with the South African fortress of Newlands being their next port of call. But he is convinced the current squad are not in danger of over-confidence.
“The danger is the word complacency, but that won’t happen in our squad – that’s not where we’re at as a side,” he said.
“There is a big opportunity that presents itself when you play like that but it can turn very quickly.
“Let’s not get too carried away but it would be great if we can continue to put pressure on South Africa in the next game. This team are very talented to start with and hungry to do well. Playing for England means so much to the guys and it’s such a fantastic thing to be able to do and say.
“The guys know what’s out there for them if they’re prepared to work hard.”
Cook drew particular attention to the efforts of returning batsman Nick Compton.
Two-and-a-half years since he was cast aside amid suggestions his face did not fit, the 32-year-old batted with rare discipline in the city of his birth.
He made a crucial 85 to dull an early South Africa charge on day one and added another diligent 49 in the second innings.
“I thought the way Nick came back after a few years out really helped – he was a rock for us in that first innings,” said Cook.
Reflecting on his triumphant comeback, Compton spoke as he had batted – measured and calm.
“It’s one Test, you can go on for ages about it but we move on. I’m not getting ahead of myself or over-celebrating what’s been a very good win.
“But it’s a great dressing room. There are a lot of hungry guys who want to have long Test careers.”
One of those is Jonny Bairstow.
He had an up-and-down match, batting more fluently than anyone else across two innings, but dropping Hashim Amla and missing a tricky stumping against AB De Villiers. There was clear support among his team-mates when he did complete a stumping to dismiss Temba Bavuma on the final morning, but he took ownership of his earlier miss.
“You put the work in on turning pitches, having come from the UAE I’ve done a lot, so I’m disappointed to have missed that opportunity,” he said.
“But it’s one you take on the chin and move forward. I don’t do it on purpose – everyone makes mistakes in doing their best for the team.”
England are likely to retain faith in Bairstow for the New Year Test, with the only likely change being James Anderson for Chris Woakes, providing the former’s calf injury does not flare up.