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With a few minor changes, England can rule cricket world

Johannesburg: England have the ability to be the No.1 Test team in the world. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are match-winners. Alastair Cook and Joe Root are world-class batsmen while Ben Stokes is the magic piece in the jigsaw.

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Stokes holds it all together. He bats, bowls, catches brilliantly at slip and is a competitor. He is spirited and that is huge for England. He gives the team balance and can score so quickly, leaving plenty of time in the match to bowl the opposition out.

However, it is the top order that is the weakness. If Root had not made a hundred here England would have gone under and South Africa would have levelled the series. Root is quickly becoming England's saviour and, after his ninth Test century, he is the focal point they look to when in need of digging out of a hole.

Look at Cape Town. England were winning the Test but South Africa ground it out to match our huge first-innings score and, as soon as England's top order were put under pressure on the last day, they buckled and nearly lost the match. Up front England's batting is wobbly and that is what is hurting us.

Alex Hales will have a problem in Test cricket because technically his footwork is poor. He may have wonderful hand-eye co-ordination, play marvellous attacking shots, but if you cannot stay in against the new ball how the hell are you going to play big strokes? You cannot because you are back in the pavilion. He will play in the next Test at Centurion, and rightly so. But after that England need to do some serious thinking.

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I believe Nick Compton can do a job at No.3. He can be the glue that holds the innings together, allowing the shot players to go about their business. He got a good ball in the first innings here. That happens. At least with Compton you feel he can stay in, bat in an old-fashioned way, see the shine off the ball and tire the bowlers out to lay a platform for the strokemakers later on. He may have a Test future.

The jury is out on James Taylor. His career is in its infancy. England will give him a bit longer to prove himself at No.5 and that is right. Also what brilliant catches he took at short leg. They were outstanding.

But until those batters become more consistent England will not reach No.1. They will always have ups and downs. If they can fix those problems then England will be a formidable side. They have a fine array of seam bowlers, an off-spinner in Moeen Ali who can take wickets and lower middle order batting that can turn a Test.

Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen and Broad are late-order devastating stroke players who can take the game away from the opposition in an hour. They are England's real strength in the batting but they are always having to make up for deficiencies at numbers two, three and five.

This Test was in the balance when the afternoon started but Broad changed its course and won the game in an hour, cleaning up the top five batsmen. It was an outstanding, match-winning performance from him. He has this brilliant ability to bowl sides out quickly and he has done it seven times.

The game was even-stevens and for England to win it needed their two best bowlers to step up to the plate because on the first morning, when there was an opportunity to bowl well on a fresh pitch, they were poor.

Jimmy looked rusty and bowled all over the place. He could not find line or length and Broad was running in as if his feet were in treacle and we found out afterwards he was not very well.

But they came out here and bowled fantastically in the second innings. When Broad ran in he had beautiful rhythm, racing in to his delivery stride and finishing two-thirds down the pitch in his follow through.

He had pace, accuracy, made the ball jag and bounce. Some of those deliveries would have dismissed better people than these South Africans.

The ball he dismissed AB de Villiers with was the best of the lot. De Villiers is the best batsman in the world for me, but Broad cut him in half with one that bounced and nipped back and nearly cut the batsman's wot nots off.

Broad's plan of bowling to the two left-handed openers is difficult to deliver. He was bowling to a 7-2 field, which is only two fielders on the leg side. I am not a big fan of it as a tactic because it is easy to bowl too wide of off stump. The bowler is afraid of bowling straight and being flicked through the leg side.

But Broad stuck with it and it worked. He dismissed both openers with wonderful deliveries.

The ball to Dean Elgar bounced, left him, and was a terrific delivery.

Stiaan van Zyl's was pitched up, left him and he edged to gully. It does not matter who you are. You can be the best batsman in the world. But those two balls would get you out.

When Broad gets the bit between his teeth he is a feisty, competitive bowler. Off the field he is a very nice guy. That is exactly what you want as a captain, somebody who is up for the challenge when the going gets tough.

It has been a great Test, a wonderful advert for the game and England were outstanding. They matched South Africa and then bettered them when it counted.

Telegraph, London

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