LONDON (AP): Two series wins. Six victories in seven matches. Relentless entertainment. Smiles back on the faces of players and fans.
It has been quite the revival for England’s new-look test team.
England returned to the Oval on Monday to speedily knock off the 33 runs required to win the deciding third test against South Africa, completing a sweep of series victories this summer in a successful start to the new era under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.
Resuming on 97-0 chasing 130 to win on Day 5, England took barely 25 minutes to seal a nine-wicket victory, finishing on 130-1. That clinched the series 2-1, to go with England’s 3-0 win over world test champion New Zealand in June and its victory in a one-off test against India in July.
Following a constant and clear message from Stokes and McCullum — essentially, to never stop attacking, to never let the opponent settle — England is a team re-energized after the low of its 4-0 thrashing by Australia in the Ashes series in the winter.
“Under Stokesy and Baz at the moment, it’s a really enjoyable environment,” said England fast bowler Ollie Robinson, who was picked as player of the match after claiming seven wickets across two innings. “You can see how we are playing, everyone has a smile on their face. We are just having a great time out there.”
Against the Proteas, the English had to come from behind in the series after losing the first test at Lord’s and they moved into an almost insurmountable position on Sunday, when bad light stopped play with the hosts on the brink — much to the annoyance of spectators who wanted to see the test wrapped up.
Alex Lees was the only wicket to fall Monday, getting trapped lbw by Kagiso Rabada for 39 in a successful review by the South Africans. Lees has earlier been dropped by wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynne off Rabada.
Zak Crawley — an opener who, like Lees, is under pressure for his places after poor returns over the international summer — helped carried England over the line and was unbeaten on a 57-ball 69.
Ollie Pope was also there at the finish on 11 not out, but only after reverse paddle-sweeping fast bowler Marco Jansen into the grille of his helmet — prompting laughter from Stokes on the balcony of the England dressing room.
It was essentially a third straight three-day match in this series. Day 1 was washed out and Day 2 was called off as a mark of respect following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday.
“This game, with it being shortened, our main goal was to make sure it ended in a result,” Stokes said. “We felt we owed it to ourselves, to the nation who have showed support towards us.
“We will always continue to play in a way we feel is going to entertain people.”
Stokes thanked the players and staff who have “bought into” the new approach.
“There’s a reason why we’ve gone out and been able to perform and have the confidence in each other to go and do that,” Stokes said. “That is something that’s very rare.”