The Yorkshire star’s 4-87 in the second innings, which helped secure an innings and 53-run success shortly before lunch during today’s fifth day, was the best bowling return by an England captain since 1984 (the late Bob Willis – 4-51 v New Zealand).
A rounded display puts England within a whisker of a rare away series victory, with the final Test beginning at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Friday (8am) UK.
Ben Stokes, yet again, and Ollie Pope both scored first-innings centuries in 499-9 declared, with the latter’s his maiden Test ton.
Then, a mixture of spin and seam did the trick for Root and co as the hosts failed to reach 250 in either innings.
Former White Rose loanee Dom Bess claimed 5-51 in the first innings prior to Root’s four-for. Quicks Mark Wood and Stuart Broad also chipped in with four and three wickets in the match respectively.
“That’s a great template for how we want to play our cricket; a big first-innings score and drive the game forward from there,” said Root, whose side had to deal with the threat of rain thwarting them at various stages throughout the game.
“Winning the game late on (at Cape Town), we knew that we had to take that forward into this week, and we did that very well.
“We want to keep giving our young guys confidence so that when they get their opportunities they feel they can perform. Our team is all about the collective, and we’ve got a very good squad of players. Having guys at a young age stepping up is a really exciting place to be.”
Root, hailing his young guns, continued: “The way we have played since Cape Town, the way we’ve adapted to difference surfaces, I couldn’t be more proud of the group.
“There have been four performances in this tour where guys have got a hundred or five-for from guys under the age of 25. We’ve got a really clear direction of how we want to take the team forward.
“The guys have come in and responded. They are listening to my message, the way we want to play the game. We’ve got a lot of learning to do, and we want to keep getting better. Now we’re starting to see results, it’s feeding through the group. Long may that continue.”
Surrey’s Pope and Somerset’s Bess will get a lot of the headlines, with the former top-scoring in the first innings with a superb unbeaten 135.
“Ollie’s a wonderful talent – he has got such a brilliant game on him,” said Root.
“Once they believe they can be there, the sky is the limit for them.
“For Ollie to do it this week was a massive marker for himself and Test cricket in general.
You’re seeing a very talented young player show that he’s ready for this, he’s hungry for runs and wants to make it count when he gets in.”
Only last season, Bess came to Emerald Headingley because he couldn’t get a game ahead of Jack Leach at Somerset. The 22-year-old had two separate spells, playing Championship and T20 cricket with Yorkshire.
Now, with Leach ill, Bess has jumped ahead of his county colleague and looks set for an extended run as the number one spinner.
Root added: “It’s a remarkable journey, but he works incredibly hard at his game. He thinks a lot about the game. He could probably do with more (first-class cricket).”
Another Yorkshireman spoke in the aftermath of this victory – head coach Chris Silverwood.
And he heaped praise on Root, who has had to deal with plenty of challenges on this tour. Not only did England go 1-0 down, but their travelling party was riddled with illness in the early stages of the tour.
Silverwood said: “The first two weeks was hard, but it galvanised the guys. When we’re all behind each other, we can see what can happen.
“We’ve got another game to win. South Africa will come back hard. We’ve got to be just as prepped as we were for this game and keep driving it forward.
“Joe cares immensely, firstly about English cricket but also about his players. He genuinely cares and he wants the best for them. He has improved day by day.”
While South Africa captain Faf du Plessis admitted the Jo’burg Test could be his last on home soil prior to retirement, one of his team-mates had a particularly impressive week. Yorkshire overseas spinner Keshav Maharaj.
Maharaj claimed 5-180 from 58 overs in the first innings and deserved more reward earlier on, especially for a miserly day one performance.
The left-armer then crashed three sixes in a late 71 to delay England this morning, with him putting 99 on for the last wicket with debutant Dane Paterson.
The hosts will be without suspended fast bowler Kagiso Rabada for the last Test, while England will have to decide whether to bring back Jofra Archer on what is expected to be the quickest pitch of the series.