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Neil Fairbrother: Incredible Start to 2016
Article posted: 21 January 2016

I guess I’m not the only one that was speechless while watching Ben Stokes dismantle the South African bowling attack.

- Neil Fairbrother

What a finish to 2015 and start to 2016 the England cricket team has had. A great victory over the world number one team South Africa in Durban paved the way for an unbelievable few days of cricket in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

I guess I’m not the only one that was speechless while watching Ben Stokes dismantle the South African bowling attack in Cape Town.

Not only were we watching mental disintegration but there was some serious physical disintegration of the South African bowling attack. With Ben 70-odd not out overnight, Joe Root texted my saying ‘If Ben bats for an hour in the morning it’ll be worth watching’. He was right but also wrong.

It seemed to me that every time Ben attempted an audacious shot or big hit the ball found the middle of his bat unfailingly. It was amazing to see and those that were there will never forget it.

The game itself eventually petered out into a draw even though we had a bit of a scare two thirds of the way through the last day.

The Joburg wicket is always one that promotes great cricket. The pace, bounce and sometimes lateral movement means that everybody is in the game and when the cloud cover came down it made batting incredibly difficult.

That was the case with South Africa’s second innings when Stuart Broad returned innings figures of 6-17 and at one point had a spell of five wickets for one run.

You could see in his eyes how pumped up he was and when he was seen urging on ‘The Barmy Army’, rather than the other way around, it was evident he was about to get on a roll.

With those wickets he passed Bob Willis and became the third-highest Test match wicket-taker in English history and he will now have Ian Botham in his sights. But, just as importantly, Stuart became the number one-rated Test match bowler in the world – the first time an Englishman has held that honour since 2004, which is an incredible achievement.

From a personal point of view I think Stuart is just beginning to get the recognition from the media and supporters as a whole for just how good a cricketer he is.

He has learned the art of bowling and, as great cricketers all do, he has never stopped adding to his armoury and is always keen to learn.

Joe Root’s 120-ball hundred goes down as his best knock in an England shirt. To take on four quick bowlers on a pitch such as this shows technique, skill, bravery and big ‘cajones’.

It was simply a fantastic innings, as was the partnership he had with Ben Stokes, who made 58. After a torrid first couple of deliveries, Ben took the attack back to the South Africans, who, I think remembering Cape Town, fell apart again.

Root and Stokes clearly love batting together. They both know and complement each other so well and I would love to be a fly on the wall for some of their mid-wicket chats.

Stuart was made ‘Man of the Match’ but if ever there was a game where the honour could have been shared, this was it.

A Test series win in South Africa is a rare thing and this team truly deserved their cold beers at the end of the Joburg match.

I believe England are a couple of players short of challenging to become the world’s best Test team again.

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