In a year like no other, England fans could take comfort in knowing some things do not change as Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad continued to star in Test cricket; Joe Root’s side won all three Tests series in 2020 while there were landmark achievements for Broad and James Anderson
Last Updated: 21/12/20 6:24am
As the late afternoon sun beat down in Cape Town, Ben Stokes toppled backwards onto the Newlands turf, jubilant but with a look on his face that suggested he was as astonished as the rest of us at his latest display of brilliance.
With two wickets in as many balls, Stokes had put England on the brink of a dramatic victory over South Africa in the final hour of the second Test. The all-rounder completed the win with the third wicket of a magnificent spell of reverse-swing bowling as the tourists levelled the series.
As Joe Root and his bright young side celebrated their first win in the South African capital since 1957, a delirious away support serenading them as they had done throughout the five days of their Newlands takeover, one thing was clear: 2020 was going to be a great year…
Comeback success in South Africa
Rewind just a few days and it was a very different story. England came into the New Year on the back of a humbling defeat in Centurion, the build-up to which had been dominated by a sickness bug that wiped out just about every member of the squad at some point or other.
Coming on the back of a series defeat in New Zealand, this was an England team that seemingly had not progressed – formidable at home, ill-equipped to compete with the top sides overseas. Two and a half years into his reign, the pressure was building on Root as he and new head coach Chris Silverwood tried to bed in a number of talented but inexperienced new players, as well as a different, more patient approach with the bat.
In Cape Town though, it all seemed to come together. Ollie Pope had batted conservatively in trying to take the tourists to a competitive first-innings total but left with just Jimmy Anderson for company, he pulled out the party tricks with a series of ramps off Kagiso Rabada. A bonus 35 runs were added for the last wicket as the youngster recorded an unbeaten half-century before, not for the last time in the year, it was over to England’s elder statesmen to do the damage with the ball.
Stuart Broad claimed two early wickets, Anderson added a third and although Dean Elgar and Rassie van der Dussen halted the England charge for a time, Anderson came back with a superb spell with the second new ball to earn Root’s side a valuable first-innings lead and himself an England-record 28th Test five-for.
Another of the new generation was to the fore in the second innings, Dom Sibley proving himself to be the personification of the much-talked-about more diligent approach as he endeavoured to wear down the South African attack on his way to a memorable first Test century.
It put England in control but on a pitch offering increasingly little for the bowlers, time was against them in their bid to force a result. Enter Stokes. The lead was 264 when the all-rounder came to the crease, he departed an hour and a quarter later with England 356 to the good, his brutal display of hitting – 72 from 47 balls – put the game on fast-forward and bought his side time that would prove invaluable.
The Proteas never entertained the thought of chasing down the 438 needed for victory but after an opening stand of 71, they had very realistic hopes of batting out for a draw. England had South Africa four down at lunch, got the fifth soon after but again found themselves frustrated by Van der Dussen, this time with Quinton de Kock as his companion.
It was still five at tea, the partnership was well established, the pitch lifeless and England’s hopes were fading. For all the encouraging signs at Newlands, they appeared destined to leave as they had arrived, 1-0 down in the series.
Little did anyone know that all it would take it to alter that was a filthy long-hop from a part-time leggie. But Joe Denly bowled it, De Kock smashed it straight to Zak Crawley at midwicket and England had an opening.
Five overs later Van der Dussen was gone, falling straight into the trap as he glanced Broad to Anderson, moved into position at leg gully just moments earlier, to end his 140-ball vigil.
There were still three wickets to get, Anderson had sustained an injury which would rule him out of the rest of the tour and unable to bowl, and the final hour of the match was soon entered into. The ball was doing nothing. Root threw the ball to Stokes and suddenly the batsmen, so comfortable prior to his introduction were hopping around, playing and missing.
First to go was Dwaine Pretorius, snaffled at first slip by Root. England fans and players, inside the ground and out, erupted but it was nothing compared to the noise that came next ball. A snorter from Stokes, an edge from Anrich Nortje and calmly taken one-handed at the second attempt by Crawley at third slip.
Four overs later it was over, Vernon Philander with no answer to a ball that leapt up to hit his gloves and sprung to Pope at gully. England back in the series, Stokes the hero with runs, wicket and six catches in the match, five of them in the first innings.
The celebrations in front of the travelling fans after suggested this was not just any Test victory, it felt like the start of something for this team and certainly they carried that euphoria into the third Test at Port Elizabeth as South Africa were blown away.
Stokes was again instrumental, hitting a century as the visitors piled on the runs in the first innings. It was the youngsters who really kept the feel-good factor going though with Pope’s class there for all to see as he scored a brilliant maiden Test hundred, finishing unbeaten on 135 and putting on 73 for the ninth wicket with Mark Wood, who blitzed five sixes in a memorable 42 from 23 balls to help England to 499-9 declared.
Dom Bess then spun his way through the South Africa top-order, his first Test five-wicket haul including five of the Proteas’ top six. The home side were asked to follow on and again struggled against an England off-spinner, this time though it was the skipper, Root, with the wickets. He ended with four and could even be forgiven for keeping himself on long after his threat had diminished as he tried to complete his five-for. Even a 99-run stand for the final wicket could not put a dampened on a fine England display, they won by an innings and headed to Johannesburg just needing to avoid defeat to retain the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy.
After the spinners’ efforts in PE, as expected, the quicks took charge at the Wanderers – even with the bat. Half-centuries from Crawley, Root and Pope had helped England to edge past 300 and when Nortje clinched his five-for by dismissing Chris Woakes, they were 318-9. A decent but unspectacular total. That is until Wood and Broad got to work. Wood had jokes of being considered a genuine all-rounder after his feats in the previous Test and aided that cause with a quickfire 35 not out, while Broad nailed four sixes in a 28-ball 43 in a partnership of 82 in 8.2 overs to bring up the 400.
Perhaps demoralised by the last-wicket stand, South Africa folded in their first innings as Wood, bowling at searing pace, ran riot. The fast bowler ended with 5-46 and only a valiant knock of 76 from De Kock gave the Proteas scorecard any hint of respectability.
England opted against enforcing the follow on this time, instead, lead by another Root fifty, ran up an insurmountable lead to all-but guarantee the series win. There was no let-up from the away side though and despite South Africa showing some fight, Van der Dussen falling just short of a ton, England sealed only their second series win away from home in fours years with a crushing 191-run win.
Wood was the standout once again, four second-innings wickets taking him to nine in the match, while it was fitting that Stokes and Broad claimed two apiece given their contributions to a successful tour.
It may have been just one series against a less than stellar South Africa side but coming from behind to record three straight wins, with senior players producing in key moments and a young batting line-up standing up to the one area of real strength in the Proteas team, a top-class bowling attack including Kagiso Rabada, Philander and Nortje, was enough to turn the doom and gloom into cautious optimism about the future of this England side.
False start in Sri Lanka
Perhaps the last time there was a similar feeling of positivity about Root’s England was late in 2018 after a 3-0 series whitewash in Sri Lanka. That soon dissipated after a defeat in the Caribbean a few months later. The challenge this time was to prove their latest impressive away series win was not another false dawn.
Instead it was a false start. Despite worries over the coronavirus, England travelled to Sri Lanka and began their preparations, hoping to ready themselves for the usual spin-friendly surfaces found in the subcontinent.
Handshakes were banned but they got as far as the final warm-up match before the call came: the pandemic was taking hold across the globe and on March 13 the tour was postponed. As sport shut down, no one could say with any certainty when, and in what form, it would return.
Broad takes out frustration on West Indies
After months of lockdown spent watch re-runs and watchalongs, the news cricket fans had been waiting for came through on June 2. England would play the West Indies in three Test matches, all played behind closed doors and in bio-secure venues with the players of both sides staying at on-site hotels at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford.
Training bubbles were established and a little over a month later, the teams were in Southampton ready to embark on an historic series – the first Test matches to be played since the pandemic had taken hold. With COVID substitutes, players banned from using saliva on the ball, no crowds and the few in the ground all part of the bio-secure bubble, the intrigue was not solely on the action out in the middle.
Ahead of the series, it was also decided players and staff from both teams, as well as the umpires, would take a knee before the start of each Test in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Sky Sports pundits Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent have since been awarded the Freedom of the City of London for the standing up to racism, speaking passionately and powerfully about the systemic racism they have been subjected to and the need for change.
On the field, England were without captain Root, who had left the bubble to be at the birth of his second child, meaning Stokes led his country for the first time. It was his opposite number, Jason Holder, who took the headlines though, with figures of 6-42 as England were bundled out for 204.
Stokes did his bit with the ball, taking four wickets, but could not prevent the Windies taking a commanding 114-run lead on first innings. Would Broad have made a difference? The man himself certainly thought so, speaking of his anger and disappointment at being left out of the XI.
England has plumped for the express pace of Jofra Archer and Wood but the pair managed just one first-innings wicket between them – that of No 11 Shannon Gabriel – which served only to strengthen Broad’s case.
The hosts did fight their way back into contention with half-centuries from Sibley and Crawley and prior to a lower-order collapse, seemed to have the edge. Gabriel tore through the tail though and while a chase of 200 for the tourists was by no means straightforward, it meant they were in control.
Two early wickets for Archer changed that, especially when opener John Campbell was forced to retire hurt as well, and when Wood bowled Shai Hope to leave the Windies 27-3, it was England sensing victory.
West Indies recovered through Roston Chase and Jermaine Blackwood and reached 100 before Archer returned to remove the former. It made little difference as Blackwood, showing a composure that has so often been lacking in his career to his point coolly guided his team towards their target.
Blackwood eventually fell five short of what would have been a deserved hundred, one of two wickets for Stokes late in the piece but even he could not deny the West Indies a famous win.
It was on to Old Trafford for Tests two and three, Root was back and it was all change in the England bowling ranks. In came Broad, Curran and Woakes and out went Anderson, Wood and, after breaching the bio-secure bubble in between Tests, Archer.
The new seam trio would have to wait for their chance as Holder put England in to bat, a decision he was soon made to forget as England’s batsmen responded to criticism of their showing in the opening game by posting an imposing 469-9 declared. Rarely was it free-flowing but the grit showed by Sibley as he registered his second Test ton was precisely what Root and Silverwood had been asking for.
Stokes was again the star though, top-scoring with a fabulous 176. With a strike-rate a shade under 50, it was not always his most fluent knock, but such was his control that he was able to move up and down the gears as required throughout the innings.
The 260-run stand between Sibley and Stokes laid the foundations for England but after voicing his frustrations in the previous Test, there was no chance this one would go by without Broad making his mark. It took more than 80 overs but his moment did arrive, a three-wicket burst with the second new-ball breaking the back of the Windies innings.
The visitors managed to avoid the follow on and, with day three having been washed out, time was of the essence for England. Out went Stokes and Jos Buttler to open and although the latter fell without scoring, Stokes smashed 78no from 57 balls before England declared to set the Windies 312 to win, but more pertinently to leave them 85 overs to bat out for the draw.
Broad was in the thick of the action once more, taking three early wickets as the Windies slipped to 37-4. A century stand between Blackwood and Shamarh Brooks bolstered their chances but, ever the man for a crisis, Stokes came on and broke the stand with a well-directed bumper that Blackwood gloved behind.
Holder offered some resistance before he was bowled by Bess, who completed a series-levelling win for England with the wicket of Kemar Roach in the final session.
It set up a fascinating final Test, before which it was announced the Wisden Trophy would become the Richards-Botham Trophy in future series. But while the Windies dominated in the era of those two greats, it was England who in charge throughout the decider.
The third Test proved a bridge too far for the West Indies experienced seam attack, three of whom – Gabriel, Roach and Holder – had played in all three back-to-back matches and racked up a lot of overs in the process.
“Stuart Broad, with that fire in the belly he showed, has got more to come and he doesn’t just want to get 500 wickets – he wants to get up to 600 as well”
They held firm for much of England’s first innings as Pope made 91 and there were much-needed half-centuries from under-pressure pair Rory Burns and Buttler. However, a late onslaught from Broad, who powered 62 from 45 balls, seemed to finally break them.
The Windies batting had been suspect throughout the tour and the top-order wilted again, the seamers sharing those wickets before Broad made light work of the middle and lower-order to finish with 6-31 and move to the brink of a major personal milestone.
First though, he could put his feet up as England’s top three made hay against an increasingly weary Windies attack. Burns helped himself to 90, there was another half-century for Sibley and Root played beautifully for his 68no. England raced to 226-2 before declaring and set about taking the wickets they need to clinch the series.
Woakes was excellent in taking a second-innings five-for but despite that, his was merely a supporting role to lead man Broad on what proved to be the last day of the series.
The 34-year-old’s two wickets the previous evening had taken him to 499 in Test cricket and did not have to wait long for No 500. He nipped one back to Kraigg Brathwaite, it stayed a little low and struck the opener plumb in front, up went the umpire’s finger and with that Broad joined an elite group of bowlers to reach the milestone.
In something of a quirk, his 500th victim was the same batsman dismissed by his new-ball partner Anderson to reach 500 wickets back in 2017.
As the tributes poured in for Broad, the Windies were folding. They were bowled out for 129 as England claimed a crushing 269-run win to secure the series. No prizes for guessing who took the final wicket.
Marvellous Manchester chase enough to see off Pakistan
Pakistan were the next side to enter the Test bubble for another three-match series. With a battery of exciting young fast bowlers to assist the metronomic Mohammad Abbas plus a top-quality leg-spinner in Yasir Shah, England’s batsmen were in for another trying time. A batting line-up starring Babar Azam was also expected to make life more difficult for the bowlers than the Windies, too.
Sure enough, halfway through the first Test in Manchester, England were in trouble. A magnificent hundred from Shan Masood, supplemented by 69 from Babar, had taken the visitors to 326 and England, having been 12-3 inside six overs, had a Pope half-century to thank for getting them up to as many as 219.
England’s bowlers stepped up in the second innings, Broad claiming three more, as Pakistan were skittled for 169 but on a quickly deteriorating pitch, Yasir’s 33 on the fourth morning swung a delicately-poised game in the favour of Azhar Ali’s men.
Abbas soon accounted for Burns before Sibley and Root build a partnership to give England a foothold. However, when they fell in quick succession, swiftly followed by Stokes and Pope, the game was surely up.
Buttler, who later admitted he feared this may have been his last Test innings, was joined by Woakes. England still need 160, the pitch was misbehaving and there were only the bowlers left to come.
Rather than just try to survive, the pair went on the counter-attack with Buttler leading the charge. It proved a masterstroke, putting the pressure back on the Pakistan bowlers as they brought up their 50 partnership in 49 balls just before tea.
The going was slightly tougher after the break but Buttler and Woakes remained proactive, each going through to half-centuries. As England drew ever closer, the pressure built, even inside a near-empty stadium with a defiant last stand having morphed into a potentially match-winning partnership.
One wicket could change the entire complexion of the match but the England duo batted on fearlessly to the point where supporters watching on at home might just have allowed themselves to think the game was won. Alas, it is never that simple, Buttler was lbw to Yasir for a superb 75 with 21 still needed for victory and the second new ball just around the corner.
Woakes guided England to the brink with a sumptuous straight drive, although when Yasir got Broad lbw in the next over, the tension ramped up again – even with only four more needed and three wickets in hand.
Even the winning moment was not without incident, Shaheen Afridi finding Woakes’ edge with a beauty, only for the ball the fly through the cordon and way for four! A miraculous win for England, one of the great run chases and perhaps only the fact it came so soon after the greatest of them all, at Headingley the previous summer, prevented it from being viewed as such in the immediate aftermath.
With England 1-0 up, the bubble moved back down south to the Ageas Bowl with Stokes ruled out of the remainder of the series for family reasons and murmurings Anderson might be ready to retire after a disappointing display in Manchester.
England’s greatest ever bowler was having none of it though, making it clear in the days leading up to the second Test that he was far from finished. He soon proved it out on the pitch, trapping Masood lbw with his eighth ball of the match in Southampton in a welcome return to form.
As it was, that was about as exciting as it got for the remainder of the match. A mixture rain and bad light scuppered any chance of a result with no play possible on day three and little more than 10 on day four.
A wet outfield added to the farce on day five but once they did get going, with a draw already a certainty, Crawley was able to play himself into form and collect another Test fifty.
It left England needing just a draw from the third Test to win the series and end an extraordinary year of red-ball cricket having collected all three trophies available to them.
Batting first, the hosts found themselves precariously placed at 127-4. From that point on, Pakistan did not have a sniff. Crawley had reached 50 just before lunch and just kept going and going.
In a knock of supreme quality, showing an ability to play confidently either side of the wicket, Crawley eased to his maiden Test hundred turned it into a double and all the way to 267 before he was stumped down the legside.
He had shown flashes of his talent in his seven Tests prior to this, despite being shunted up and down the order, but this was his real ‘coming out party’. An innings that told England to stop their search for a Test No 3, he was right here and, at 22, he was here to stay.
At the other end, Buttler, eight years his senior and with 47 Tests under his belt, was doing something not entirely dissimilar. The confidence of his match-winning innings in the first Test still coursing through him, the wicketkeeper-batsman played like a man who had finally cracked it in red-ball cricket. There was a calmness and assuredness to his batting, something regularly seen in white-ball cricket but too often missing in the longer format. The attacking strokes were there when called upon but he was just as happy to trust his defence and work the singles too.
Buttler made his second Test century a big one, his fifth-wicket partnership with Crawley came in at a record-breaking 359, and England had gone past 500 by the time he went and pushed up to 583 before declaring.
The draw they required was a given but with World Test Championship points up for grabs, England had reason to push for victory. Anderson might have started the summer slowly but he was ending it like a train, wiping out four of the Pakistan top five in a stunning spell of new-ball bowling to leave them 30-4.
The one man he did not get was Azhar Ali, the Pakistan skipper rescued the innings with a superb ton of his own, finishing unbeaten on 141 as his side were bowled out for 273 – Anderson eventually completing a 29th Test five-for to wrap up the innings following a number of dropped catches off his bowling – and asked to follow on.
The weather intervened once again to make England’s task that much harder on an increasingly flat pitch and once rain and then a wet outfield prevented any play before tea on day five, the game was headed for a draw.
Yet, there was a determination among the England players to get back out there. Anderson had moved to 599 Test wickets when he trapped Abid Ali lbw on the fourth evening and with no guarantee of any five-day cricket in the near future, the Lancastrian risked being left stranded one short of another milestone.
In damp and dreary conditions, the players finally emerged from the dressing room for the evening session. Unfortunately for England, the pitch was equally dreary and for the first five overs after the resumption, the ball did not move off the straight.
Then from nowhere, in typical Anderson fashion, he managed to find movement where others cannot, nibbling the ball away a fraction from Azhar Ali with a bit of extra bounce for good measure to take the edge and fly straight to Root at slip. 600 up, just the fourth bowler in Test history to reach the mark and the first pace bowler to get there.
The game petered out into a draw but with Anderson’s achievement and a series win to celebrate, a unique summer of Test cricket ended on a high.
What next for England?
England will hope for a return to normality at some stage in 2021 but will be back in the bubble for tours of Sri Lanka and India in the New Year. Virat Kohli and his team are also among the visitors to England in the summer while New Zealand could also play their first Tests in the UK since 2015, the ECB will hope at least some fans can be present for those series.
The question is what type of England side will they be watching? The circumstances in 2020 makes it that much harder to assess but three series wins from three tells its own story.
S Africa vs Sri Lanka
December 26, 2020, 7:55am
Question marks remain over the England openers and spinners – six Tests in the subcontinent this winter should provide a few answers on the latter.
Just about everywhere else though, they look strong. Crawley and Pope have both given reason to believe they are going to be around this team for many years to come, Sam Curran, still just 22, continues to produce whenever he is given an opportunity and in Stokes they have a genuine superstar, with both bat and ball.
If Buttler really has got his head around Test cricket then they might have another one on their hands.
Broad is bowling as well as he ever has, Anderson might need to have his games managed from time to time but has shown again that he remains a world-class performer at 38 and Woakes, consistently excellent at home showed signs in South Africa that he could play his part overseas too.
In Archer they have one of the most exciting fast bowlers in the game, while a fully-fit Wood with his out-and-out pace is a great option and one more likely to be utilised away from home.
As for skipper, Root has had better years with the bat but there is no doubting his class and he continues to grow as a leader.
This time next year, he will be in the midst of an Ashes battle in Australia. As ever with England, that is when this team will really be judged…
Source : Sky Sports