South Africa great Mike Procter hopes England’s “mind-blowing” 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 native Proteas in a three-match series.
England had won just one of their 17 previous Tests before their new red-ball leadership duo took charge this season.
But they have since become a transformed team, with a perfect record of four wins in as many matches heading into 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.
England then made light of a seemingly stiff pursuit of 378 in the Covid-delayed fifth Test against India at Edgbaston.
“Mind-blowing, to be honest,” Procter told AFP in London. “Watching on television, the way England have played has been mind-blowing, it really is.”
An outstanding all-rounder, renowned for both his dynamic fast bowling and aggressive batting, the 75-year-old Procter played in just seven Tests before his international career was cut short by South Africa’s apartheid-enforced exile from the world game.
– ‘Breath of fresh air’ –
But having spent a large part of his career playing for Gloucestershire in the hard-nosed environment of 1970s English county cricket, Procter has been struck 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’,’ Then it’s, ‘If we can win, we win’,” he said.
“This England team have changed all that. Of course, losing still matters but it’s about going for the victory. It’s been a breath of fresh air and I hope it rubs off on other teams.”
He added: “That fear of losing hasn’t been dispersed, but when you dilute it the way England hierarchy have, you are going to get some absorbing Test matches.
“Sure, they are going to come unstuck. There’s no doubt it’s going to happen, but I think they’ve got the character to pull through. If they continue playing the way they are, they can only get to the top.”
Procter, however, believes South Africa could prove a match for England.
Since opener Dean Elgar became captain of 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 fit to play at Lord’s following an ankle injury, with Duanne Olivier already ruled out of the entire series by a hip problem.
But the likes of Anrich Nortje and towering left-armer Marco Jansen could still pose problems for England.
“South Africa have beaten India (at home in January), they’ve beaten New Zealand when they batted first on a green-top (in Christchurch in March),” said Procter. “The batters are really starting to apply themselves.”
“South Africa are punching above their weight, but so are England. We’ve got two sides who are playing above themselves, it’s going to be a fascinating series.”