YORKSHIRE’S Joe Root thanked his England team for pulling together exactly as he had asked to ensure his tenure as national captain got off to a flying start with a wide-margin win over South Africa.
Moeen Ali finished with a match haul of 10-112 as England triumphed by 211 runs after 19 wickets fell in fewer than 73 overs on a decisive fourth day of the first Investec Test at Lord’s.
The all-rounder therefore edged the man-of-the-match award ahead of Root himself, who hit 190 in England’s first innings.
But after his first match in charge, the captain insisted it was the response from one to 11 that was most significant – and unsurprisingly therefore, England’s management confirmed within two hours of their victory that they will retain an unchanged 12-man squad for the second Test starting at Trent Bridge on Friday.
Root will be asking them then simply to continue in the same vein in pursuit of a 2-0 lead in this four-match series.
Reflecting on England’s success at HQ, he said: “It’s a great start, and the whole team were fabulous throughout.
I didn’t really know what to expect, but what was really pleasing was everything I asked of the lads they were very open to.England captain, Joe Root
“Everything that was thrown at them and asked of them, they responded extremely well.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but what was really pleasing was everything I asked of the lads they were very open to.”
As well as the headline acts from him and Moeen, there were first-innings 50s from Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad, four wickets from Liam Dawson, and Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow’s half-century just when England’s second-innings collapse threatened to be costly.
They lost four wickets for 10 runs, then three for two, but still set South Africa 331 to win, and then unleashed Moeen (6-53) to bowl the tourists out for 119.
“Everyone played their part, and stood up at certain times,” added Root.
“It might not have been a ‘six-for’ or a 50, but there were some crucial periods where guys showed a lot of character and were very proactive in the way they went about it, read the situation well.”
It was just what he had asked for before a ball was bowled.
“All I said was I want us to try to be quite proactive, stay ahead of the game when those opportunities come, take responsibility if you’re in a position to do so,” added Root.
“I think everyone at certain points did that. I think it’s really important we continue to do that if we’re going to take this side forward.”
Moeen made the most of his opportunity in very helpful conditions and Root was gratified to see the off-spinner bowl with such confidence.
“That’s when he’s at his best, when he is aggressive. He gets great shape on the ball, puts a lot of revs on it and makes it very difficult for batters to line it up.
“Whenever you can get a spinner beating both sides of the bat, it’s very difficult to play against.
“He was outstanding.”
Root wondered if England’s two collapses might have let South Africa back into the match “maybe slightly” – and his opposite number Dean Elgar admitted afterwards he was beginning to fancy his team’s chances.
“I thought it was game on,” said South Africa’s stand-in captain, who will be replaced in Nottingham by Faf du Plessis, back on tour after the birth of his first child back home last week.
Elgar added: “Going into lunch with eight down, I really thought we’d given ourselves the best opportunity.
“I think that’s why it’s (so) disappointing to be sitting here after things capitulated as they did.”
South Africa did not always help themselves – notably twice dropping Root early in the first innings – and having two ‘wickets’ chalked off for no-balls.
“I do think in Test cricket, particularly, you have to make your own luck,” said Elgar.
“We haven’t been kind to ourselves the last four days, small things, but they impacted the Test in quite a big way – dropped catches, non-negotiable no-balls, they would definitely have made life easier as a captain.
“(But) we need to take it on the chin and crack on.
“These are the punches you have to take – you have to get up (the next) morning with a smile on your face and know there is a Test in four days, and you have to start again.”
South Africa coach Russell Domingo has returned to South Africa after his mother’s condition worsened in hospital, following the injuries she suffered in a recent car crash.