Strauss hails perfect end to England's thrilling year

We have come a long way, says England captain after crushing win over South Africa

To complete a momentous year with such consummate brio was all that England and all who sail with her could have craved. By completing the defeat of South Africa in the second Test yesterday the team led by Andrew Strauss confirmed that light can indeed shine out of darkness.

At the same time, Graeme Swann, the team's all-conquering off-spin bowler who has become an unexpectedly major component of Strauss's side, had a twinkle in his eye that could have pierced the deepest gloom. It already has.

In the first week of 2009 Strauss was asked to take command of a team in disarray, that had shed captain and coach over a few calamitous days and might have been heading for mutiny. Yet in its last week he has helped to procure victory by an innings and 98 runs against the side that professes to be No 1 in the world, and this after engineering the regaining of the Ashes.

"We have come a long way in the last 12 months, I have got no doubt about that," said Strauss yesterday with a typical note of understatement and caution. "It's all credit to the way the guys have embraced change and tried to improve as a unit. Away from home that's as emphatic a victory as I can remember

"I don't think most people thought we would win the Ashes and come here and do well in that one-day series but we were able to achieve that because we stick together through the bad times. It feels wrong to dampen things down after a win like this but we still have a lot of hard work to do not only in this series but moving forward as well, away from home in particular."

Strauss and his partner in all this, the coach, Andy Flower, have unquestionably instilled the notions of individual responsibility for the team's good into their charges. It was what enabled England to escape from Cardiff with an unlikely draw last July and then go on to win the next Test and what allowed them to replicate the feat in Centurion last week, where they were also nine wickets down, and in Durban this.

"I think it's honesty, I think the group has really benefited from us not getting too carried away with ourselves, keeping things really simple, doing the hard work and being prepared to do it," said Strauss. "As captain you need to lead by example on that front."

Strauss has done that all right, scoring 1,172 Test runs in the year, more than anybody else in his team, fewer than only two players in the world. He has also overseen the fashioning of Test careers, not least the two bowlers who were so prominent in the scintillating win that was finalised yesterday when England took the four wickets they needed in 72 minutes of play, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad.

"Straussy left me out in Jamaica last February so I thought, 'right I'm going to show him'," said the irrepressible Swann. "It has been magnificent, starting in the West Indies and although we didn't win it was a breakthrough series for me."

Swann's wonderful year, which has brought him 54 Test wickets, has been the more unexpected because the finger spin of which he is a practitioner had seemed all but extinct at international level.

"The game goes in circles. In three or four years time we will be completely out of vogue again so I will just enjoy the fairground ride while I can," he said. Strauss paid tribute to Swann as an attacking spinner whose presence in the dressing room was also significant. "He knows how to bowl people out and he's a very clever spin bowler."

Of Broad, he was equally laudatory. "He can make things happen," said Strauss. He was also generous in his assessment of the men who made hundreds after coming into the match fighting for their places, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell. "It's a horrible place to be as a batsman when people start talking about your place. It affects you, you try not let it show but it does and it's about digging deep and finding a way to get a score. Cook did that brilliantly on the second day. I love seeing Bell play his natural game. When he does he looks as good a player as anybody in the world." And so say all of us.

*England have called up Hampshire batsman Michael Carberry as cover for Paul Collingwood for the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town, which begins on Sunday. Collingwood dislocated his left index finger during the second Test.

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