England vs South Africa Preview
After a gruelling couple of test matches in New Zealand, England now travel to South Africa to kick off their World Test Championship campaign.
England, under Ashley Giles, have now committed to a new style of test cricket where it is more attritional and this is commendable, as it is key to playing more consistent test cricket, especially overseas. South Africa on the other hand have been in turmoil off the field since their tour of India, and by their high standards, their on field performances in India were dire, but with Graeme Smith taking over as director of cricket and Mark Boucher as head coach, they will be fired up for this series to prove to observers that all is indeed well in South African cricket.
South Africa is perhaps the only place in the world where England’s slow pace of play will probably backfire, as South Africa will produce very spicy pitches where ball will be at a massive advantage over the bat. England have the players to be able to adapt there, because England now have a top 3 that will attempt to shield the middle order relatively successfully with Burns and Denly in recent months looking increasingly solid and Sibley being the best opener in the first class game. Joe Root getting some much needed confidence after his double hundred is critical. England’s batting will be fascinating in this series, but I suspect that there will be a heavy dependency on Root and Stokes, considering this’ll be the first tour to South Africa for Burns, Sibley, Denly and Pope. England’s top 3 will be put under the most intense pressure by the South Africans, and Stokes could well be entering the fray at 40-3 quite often in this series, giving the heavy lifting to Root and Stokes and Buttler down at 7 as well.
Bairstow’s recall is a strange one given that he will only have been able to work on his game indoors between New Zealand and South Africa and recalling a player dropped due to bad form when he has played 0 cricket in between is very strange. His experience of a series win in 2015/16 will be important but I suspect that England will pick both Pope and Buttler ahead of him at the beginning but we could see him with the gloves by the end of the series depending on Buttler’s form.
The bowling attack that England pick will be very difficult to pick; Jofra Archer is a certainty, but the other 3 members are up for debate. In Johannesburg and Centurion, the spinners will probably not be needed but in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth, England will have to make a decision of whether or not to include Leach. If Anderson is fit, he will get in the side and Broad probably will as well. The 4th spot may well be a toss up between Wood, Curran and Woakes.
Assuming Aiden Markram is fit, South Africa’s main question will be how to structure their middle order from numbers 3-5. Personally, I think they will have to fix de Kock at 6 and du Plessis at 4 and try to put Hamza, de Bruyn and Bavuma around them. However, with Bavuma and Ngidi out of the first test it will be a huge loss for South Africa who have lost 2 more of their better performers in recent times. This however provides an opportunity to their replacements (looking likely to be van der Dussen and Pretorius).
This series is another huge opportunity for Temba Bavuma, who technically looks like a wonderful player but simply is unable put together the big scores required from a top order batsman at the moment, but another go at home will be hugely beneficial at home. A slightly left field option (and the one I would take) would be to fit in Janneman Malan at 3, with a first class average of over 50 in 30 games, leaving a strong middle order of du Plessis, Bavuma and de Kock. Whoever gets the nod at number 3 will have a fantastic opportunity to put together innings of real substance, especially with batsmen of real pedigree (especially at home) around them in Markram, Elgar and du Plessis.
I’d be hugely surprised if South Africa go in with Philander at 7, especially for the first test in SuperSport Park and would expect Nortje with Maharaj benched until Cape Town, which may well be the driest surface of the series.
The series will come down to how senior batsmen across both sides, be it Root, Stokes and Buttler for England or FAF, Elgar and de Kock for South Africa, can help the younger batsmen and how they stand up to 2 potentially very exciting bowling attacks. Like is often becoming the case in test cricket around the world, the team that bats better will end up winning the series. It will be exciting to see how some of England’s more inexperienced players get on in this series and how Archer handles the pressure of being England’s strike weapon on helpful pitches.
There are a huge amount of similarities between players of both sides, be it Anderson and Philander, Burns and Elgar, Broad and Ngidi, Archer and Rabada, Buttler and de Kock, Denly and Bavuma and Leach and Maharaj, and as such it will be critical how these match-ups play out across the series.
I feel a fired up South Africa will do some serious damage at Centurion, a place that they have only ever lost twice, the last time due to 7 wickets by Mitch Johnson and a certain Steve Smith’s first overseas test hundred. From there it is anyone’s series and very much depends on what kind of pitches we get at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and potentially setting up an exciting finale at Johannesburg. Overall, I find it difficult to see where England’s runs will come from against a highly motivated South African attack, especially Philander with it being his last series before retirement, but South African inconsistency may come back to bite them.
Series Prediction : Centurion : England , Cape Town : South Africa , Port Elizabeth : South Africa , Johannesburg : England
South Africa 2-2 England
Expected South African Lineup : 1. Dean Elgar , 2. Aiden Markram , 3. Zubayr Hamza , 4. FAF du Plessis (c) , 5. Rassie van der Dussen , 6. Quinton de Kock (wk) , 7. Dwaine Pretorius , 8. Vernon Philander , 9. Kagiso Rabada , 10. Anrich Nortje , 11. Keshav Maharaj
Bavuma and Ngidi to come back in.
Expected England Lineup : 1. Rory Burns , 2. Dominic Sibley , 3. Joe Denly , 4. Joe Root (c) , 5. Ben Stokes , 6. Ollie Pope , 7. Jos Buttler (wk) , 8. Jofra Archer , 9. James Anderson , 10. Jack Leach / Mark Wood , 11. Stuart Broad