Alastair Cook is ready for the good times to roll after watching England score a commanding victory over South Africa in the Boxing Day Test.
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 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 is a vibrancy about this England side that suggests a bright future ahead.
They had not won in their previous four Tests before Kingsmead, but Cook was optimistic t the start of a brief two-day turnaround ahead of the second Test in Cape Town on Saturday.
“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 is 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 push pressure on South Africa in the next game.
“This team are a very talented bunch 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,” said Compton.
“But it’s a great dressing room. There are a lot of hungry guys who want to have long Test careers.”
Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow was also understandably delighted with the outcome and was candid about his fourth day missed stumping of AB De Villiers.
“It’s very pleasing to start a tour well – we’ve not done that in the past, so to get a win in the first Test is a fantastic way to start what is going to be a very tough tour,” said Bairstow. “The toss (which England lost) was critical at the time. The way we applied ourselves in the first innings was immense.”
Bairstow, who contributed 120 runs to England’s cause, continued: “I’m pretty pleased with the way I’m striking the ball.”
On Tuesday’s missed stumping – which saw him come in for some over-the-top criticism – he added: “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.
“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.”
The day started in the best possible fashion as de Villiers – South Africa’s best hope – fell lbw to Moeen Ali’s third ball of the day.
And there was even partial redemption for Bairstow, who responded to his missed stumping late on day four by whipping off the bails to see off Temba Bavuma for a duck.
At the other end, Steven Finn was rewarded for a sharp opening burst with the wicket of nightwatchman Dale Steyn, pegging back off stump in satisfying fashion.
Finn, having taken three wickets on the fourth evening, was charging in with pace and precision but could not pick up a deserved fifth wicket.
But there was a first for Chris Woakes, who had been unlucky in the first innings and is likely to be the man to make way for James Anderson in Cape Town.
Dane Piedt lasted more than half-an-hour without scoring before being caught at short leg off bat and pad.
Morne Morkel and JP Duminy (26no) delayed the inevitable for seven overs before Stuart Broad trapped the former in front of the stumps to put his side 1-0 up.