South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Durban, 5th day December 30, 2009

Strauss savours a year-capping victory

Not many teams beat South Africa on home soil, even fewer do it by an innings an hour into the final day
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As the crow flies it is almost 8000 miles between Kingston in Jamaica and Durban, but in every sense for England they have proved worlds apart. A year that began amid turmoil with a collapse for 51 all out in one of their most humiliating defeats has ended with of one their most impressive victories. Not many teams beat South Africa on home soil, even fewer do it by an innings an hour into the final day.

With Andrew Strauss at the helm, and Andy Flower exuding calm control, the players will be kept firmly grounded in the days to come. This job is only half done. England didn't come here to win a Test, they came to win a series, but this will rightly be acknowledged as a victory of the highest order.

"We've come a long way in the last 12 months, and that's all credit to the way the guys have embraced changes," Strauss said. "We've all got behind each other and enjoyed each other's success and have finished the year on a real high. I don't think most people would have thought we'd win the Ashes and then come here and do so well so far. We've been able to do it, because we stick together through the tough times."

Everything about England was impressive. From the early new-ball wickets on the first day, to the way they built pressure as Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis threatened to produce a commanding total. Then there was a unyielding batting display, with contrasting but complementary contributions all through the order, before the match cumulated in a destructive second-innings bowling effort from Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad.

The only time England appeared momentarily rudderless was when Dale Steyn cut loose for his 47 at No. 10, but the ledger was soon balanced by Strauss's own rollicking start. Strauss has been through quite a year. He wasn't even captain when it started and then only took the job because there wasn't really anyone else available. Now he has the chance to etch his name among England's finest leaders.

"Away from home, that is as emphatic a victory as I can remember," he said. "For pretty much the whole Test match, we did exactly what we wanted to do. They never got away from us, and we always felt it was under control.

"Getting that big score set it up for us to bowl them out in the fourth innings. I don't think we felt it was going to be as easy as it was. But all credit to the way Broady and Swanny bowled last night. But we know we've still got a lot of hard work to do. As captain, you need to lead by example on that."

There is no doubt that Strauss will do just that. As he did after the Ashes, when he called for calm amid the euphoria and demanded it be used as a stepping stone for the future, he was quick to focus on the task to come in South Africa.

"It feels wrong to dampen things down after a win like this but we still have a lot of work to do," he said. "We lost heavily at Headingley last year against the Aussies - and we know in the next Test what happened here counts for nothing.

"But we are 1-0 up with two to play, and the way we won today gives us a lot of confidence going to Cape Town. South Africa will come back hard at us, because they're a proud team and have some very good players."

Importantly, though, this victory shows that England are finding a way of winning Tests with a new balance of team. The Ashes success was secured with Andrew Flintoff still in the side - albeit on one leg most of the time - and when this tour began the huge debate revolved around which suit England would strengthen (and which they would weaken) to compensate for his absence.

They went down the six-batsmen route, despite early suggestions Luke Wright was in the running for a debut, and it has paid off handsomely with Ian Bell making 140, arguably his best Test innings to date. It won't always work, for example in the subcontinent where conditions may demand two spinners, but this Durban pitch was fairly placid yet England comfortably took the 20 wickets required. Nine of those went to Swann, their bowler of the year, and the second leading wicket-taker in the world for 2009.

"It's like all these things, if you win it's right decision if you don't it's the wrong decision," Strauss said. "You pick the side you feel will win the Test match and I felt a valuable contribution from No. 6 on this wicket would be important, and so it proved.

"Belly's hundred got us in a position where South Africa were no longer in the game and our bowlers could attack. I must say the four-bowler option works a lot better when your spinner is contributing in the first innings, which has made life a lot easier for us."

It was one of those matches a captain dreams about, where selection, planning and on-field tactics all work in sync. Strauss's year is littered with notable achievements, some more noticeable than others, but this victory has put him one win away from starting 2010 with a triumph that would surpass everything else. Even the Ashes.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jackiethepen on January 1, 2010, 15:47 GMT

    Obviously Bilal_S has never seen a game captained by Pietersen who was exceptionally cautious and conservative. Don't mix up the batsman with the captain. KP hadn't got a clue and shouldn't ever be called on to captain again. All the media hype over the bowlers shouldn't prevent us praising the England batsmen who have hardly got a mention. There were not only no centurions on the SA side in two inninngs from their star batting lineup but England in one innings had two cenutrions and a near one in Cook, Bell and Colly. Just a stunning performance with Bell top scoring. Some triumph for the guy everyone wanted dropped despite his crucial 72 at the Oval.

  • Thecricketgenious on January 1, 2010, 15:41 GMT

    I hope England go and seize the initiative and win the series 3-0. Hammer it into the south Africans a bit smug faces.

  • NeilMatthews68 on December 31, 2009, 9:56 GMT

    "The one moment I clearly remember in the Ashes series is the how Swann bowled Ricky Ponting at the Oval." Er, you must have overdosed on the sherry. Swann didn't bowl Ponting at the Oval. That was Broad in the first innings (Flintoff ran Ponting out in the second).

  • JimDavis on December 31, 2009, 9:41 GMT

    Most enjoyable win by England, always good to see South Africa's two areas of weakness - spin and the top of off stump - brutally exposed, but please hold off on the hyperbole until the series is over. "Not many teams beat South Africa on home soil" um except in the three years previous there was India, then Pakistan, then the West Indies, then Australia and now England. Only Bangladesh and New Zealand have not won a test on South Afrian soil. (Why invent statguru if your writers refuse to use it?) Oh and only once did South Africa not come back hard, win the next test and the series.

  • Quazar on December 31, 2009, 5:56 GMT

    Cracking performance from England! The very best away performance I've seen too. Strauss is a terrific leader, and is supported by a pretty good batting lineup (with good depth). But I think what's really been the key to England's rise has been their bowling potency...and for once England have a very good, aggressive spinner in their ranks. So cheers to England! (But I still think the Proteas will make a very strong comeback in this series! They aint gonna underperform like in Durban every time!)

  • lawton on December 31, 2009, 2:55 GMT

    Its not a fluke England has been doing brilliantly in 2009.Graham Swann makes all the difference to the side.I think Swann is the best spinner/slow bowler to play for England since Derek Underwood in the 70s.The one moment I clearly remember in the Ashes series is the how Swann bowled Ricky Ponting at the Oval.

  • WorldXIGuru on December 30, 2009, 23:35 GMT

    Good Job England, But you really have tough time coming up.. with SA down 0-1. You have showed SA how to shut up and play (especially Micky Arthur).

    I like to take a mention of cricinfo commentators, who said Draw is the most possible result on Day 3.. when England is leading with good amount of wickets. Cricinfo, Please note that you will survive only if cricket survives... I did not like the way mention of Draw on Day 3 killing the interest of audience.

  • Bilal_S on December 30, 2009, 21:59 GMT

    Perceptive comments from Strauss. Think he is a good captain for England. Didn't mind Pietersen either, though. Think his aggressive captaincy would suit the T20 game very well.

  • JAZ_SINGH on December 30, 2009, 20:46 GMT

    Graeme Swann done well, but i hope that England, Iam Botham, Nasser, Atherton and co dont rate him the best spinner in the world after a few performances just like they did with Monty who now is noway near being selected. And please England, do not start comparing him with Harbhajan, Vetorri etc as Swann has got most of his wickets by luck. Just like Monty, he has no variations e.g the doosra. Any body can ball the arm ball. Anyway, good luck to him and England!!

  • sadhuism on December 30, 2009, 18:24 GMT

    i m happy. bcoz nw SAF wont make it to no 1 spot until feb. india will njoy 2 more months of the crown without playing a test match.

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