Big South African center Mike Procter hopes England’s “stunning” approach to Test cricket under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum is a sign of things to come as they prepare to face his hometown Proteas in a tri-series matches.
England had won just one of the previous 17 Tests before their new leadership duo took charge this season.
But they have since become a changed team, with a remarkable record of four wins in as many matches ahead of Wednesday’s first Test against South Africa at Lord’s.
That record includes a 3-0 series win over world champions New Zealand, where England chased down targets of 277, 299 and 296.
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England then thwarted a seemingly tough chase of 378 in the fifth Test against India at Edgbaston, postponed due to Covid.
“Honestly, mind-blowing,” Proctor told AFP in London. “Watching it on TV, the way England played was stunning. It really is.”
An all-rounder known for both his dynamic fast bowling and aggressive batting, Proctor, 75, played just seven Tests before his international career was cut short by South Africa’s expulsion from the world game under apartheid.
“Breath of Fresh Air”
But having spent much of his career playing for Gloucestershire in the tough environment of English county cricket in the 1970s, Procter was impressed by England’s efforts to “dilute” the fear of defeat.
“Looking back over all the years of Test cricket, the initial attitude has always been, ‘Let’s make sure we don’t lose’ and then ‘If we can win, we will,'” he said.
“This England team has changed everything. Sure, losing still matters, but it’s about winning. It was a breath of fresh air and I hope it rubs off on the other teams.”
He added: “That fear of defeat hasn’t gone away, but if you dilute it, like in the England hierarchy, you get some exciting Test matches.
“Of course they will come off. There is no doubt that it will happen, but I think they have the character to continue. If they keep playing the way they are, they can only get to the top.”
Procter, however, believes South Africa could prove a match for England.
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Since opener Dean Elgar captained the Test side in March 2021, the Proteas have won seven out of nine matches.
They boast an impressive pace attack, although doubts remain over whether Kagiso Rabada will be able to play at Lord’s following an ankle injury, with Duane Olivier already ruled out for the entire series with a hip problem.
But the likes of Henrich Nortier and tall left-back Marco Janssen could still pose problems for England.
“South Africa beat India (at home in January), they beat New Zealand when they batted first on the green top (in Christchurch in March),” Procter said. “The punches are really starting to apply.”
“South Africa punch above their weight, but so do England. We’ve got two sides playing above themselves, it’s going to be an exciting series.”