Being out of the country I was unable to see and hear the Sky coverage of the final day of the Cape Town Test. From a commentary point of view this isn't something that usually causes me too much pain. Whilst acknowledging the quality of Atherton's analysis and the gentleness of Gower's whimsy it is in general a team heavy on Harrises and Ntinis and light on Morkels and Steyns.
On this occasion though, I had a guilty urge to hear the views of Nasser Hussain. For it was a day made for him. Him as a player and captain that is. When he took over as captain in July 1999 he explicitly and unapologetically stated that his aim was to make England 'difficult to beat'. Not for him the gloriously idealistic sentiments of Richie Benaud on Australia's 1956 tour of England where he promised, and indeed delivered, 'attractive cricket even at the risk of defeat'. Hussain's considerations were much more prosaic - it was his primary duty to make England respected again as a cricketing nation. He might have believed they could win ever game they played, but he was also a realist. He didn't have the players to win games consistently, especially against the best teams. According to his immediate predecessor, Alec Stewart, only 'about four' of the side Hussain inherited were of true Test class (one hopes he included his number 3 amongst them!)
Under Hussain's leadership England might win some games, they might lose some but they must absolutely not lose meekly. He was sick of the batting collapses and of the unfavourable comparisons with the mental toughness of Australia and South Africa. He succeeded in changing and improving performances and results quite quickly, winning four Test series in a row. Impressive enough, but the true test and what Hussain really wanted to achieve was to change mindsets, to instill that toughness that he so admired in the Aussies, in the English team side on a permanent basis. We may now have enough evidence to say that he succeeded.
What though, I hear you say, of the collapse at Headingley last year that you describe in your only other blog entry? I submit that this is in fact the exception that proves the new rule. England are not a great team and so against good opposition such as Australia, India and South Africa they are always likely to find themselves in difficulties from time to time. Nevertheless, three times time in less than a year when England have appeared in an almost hopeless position, they have stood firm and instead it is the ability and killer instinct of those same Australian and South Africans that has been brought into question.
Aside from what must now be considered the glorious blip of 2005, England are as far away from being world beaters as every they were. But they can no longer be regarded as the meek, soft touches that they once were either. Hussain deserves great credit for this and he, as much as anybody, must have revelled in yesterday's play.