England Should Beat South Africa. Just.

Test cricket is back. Thank heavens for that.

Has anyone else found the cut and thrust of white ball cricket exhausting? I’m done with eight or ten runs per over. I’m craving something sedate and sophisticated. And I don’t particularly care if it’s slow bordering on the soporific. I want every boundary to be greeting by subtle intakes of breath and polite applause rather than the latest hit by Girls Too Loud (or whatever they’re called).

It’s great that the first test is at Lord’s. It suits my mood. I also expect England to win – although it might be quite close. Unless the pitch is an absolute featherbed I can see a result within four days. Both teams look strong in bowling but weaker in batting.

Although South Africa have won four series in a row without Cruella de Villiers they’ll be up against it in the opening test. Faf du Plessis will certainly be missed – he’s not only their skipper, he’s also a very experienced player in English conditions.

Without Faf, the Cricket Boks will be incredibly reliant on stand-in captain Dean Elgar, who is a good player, and the world class Hashim Amla. The other players, to coin a phrase from Shania Twain, don’t impress me much …

JP Duminy has all the talent in the world but remains infuriatingly inconsistent. He made double figures five times in six innings in New Zealand but failed to get past 39 once! How typical.

Meanwhile Temba Bavuma looked a good compact player when he scored that memorable hundred against England eighteen months ago, but he hasn’t reached three figures since. He struggled badly in Sri Lanka and his test average still languishes around the 30 mark. Not good.

Although we don’t know much about Kuhn and de Bruyn (the former will be making his debut and the latter has one cap) Lord’s can be quite a tricky place to make one’s debut. Both have strong first class records but it will be a big step up in class.

I imagine that Quinton de Kock will be a key player for the Cricket Boks. He’s one of the best players to watch in the world – he’s certainly one of my personal favourites – and South Africa might need him to dig them out of a hole or two … unless Amla and Elgar can make huge runs at the top.

As for England, our batting also has problems. As ever we’ll be reliant on the holy trinity of Cook, Root and Bairstow. I’ll be impressed if the other specialist batsmen can muster 100 between them against South Africa’s attack …

Gary ‘fourth chance’ Ballance will obviously be under huge scrutiny, Moeen Ali will probably be caught hooking, and Keaton Jennings has only passed 50 twice this season in division two of the championship. Thank heavens there’s Ben Stokes to fall back on.

It’s a different story when it comes to the bowling, however. The Saffers look very strong even without Dale Steyn, who might not be an automatic choice if he ever recovers 100% from his shoulder injury.

Morne Morkel is still on the prowl, Vernon Philander is the kind of bowler who was born to bowl at Lord’s, and Kagiso Rabada is hands-down the best young paceman in the world. I haven’t met a single cricket fan that doesn’t have a huge man-crush on him.

Strangely enough, South Africa also have the best spinner available to either captain. Keshav Maharaj will never be Hedley Verity, but he looks a decent slow bowler who’s made a good start to his test career – averaging 26 in his first seven tests.

England’s attack is also their strong point. Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson know Lord’s extremely well, Mark Wood adds much needed pace and was one of the best bowlers in the Champions Trophy, and Ben Stokes (if he’s fit to bowl) has that happy knack of picking up big wickets. Our spin options are a tad dire but you can’t have everything.

In the end I expect England to win simply because we’re more experienced in English conditions (duh!) and we bat a bit deeper than South Africa. If you fancy a flutter, check out these top UK free bets sites. England are as short as 10/11 with South Africa 11/4.

I’m also backing England because Cook and Bairstow have looked in particularly good form this summer. If they can score big runs, and take the pressure off their captain, it will help the team an awful lot. Nobody knows for certain how much the captaincy will affect Root’s form with the willow.

I’m particularly looking forward to watching Jonny take on Morkel and Rabada. He scored his first half-centuries in test cricket against the same opposition at Lord’s back in 2012. They were fine innings in testing circumstances against a very good attack. Let’s see if the good memories come flooding back and he does it again.

I also expect big things for Alastair Cook. Now he’s free of the captaincy I’m hoping Cook will feel liberated and rediscover his penchant for Daddy hundreds. His form for Essex this summer has been excellent, he obviously feels refreshed, and he’ll never get a better opportunity to boost his average against South Africa (which is currently a slightly underwhelming 36).

If the new skipper is going to have a successful first year in the job, I suspect he’ll need significant runs from the old skipper. Even though he’s no longer in charge, England will need Cook as much as ever over the next seven or eight months.

No pressure, Alastair.

James Morgan

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  • Finally a test match and I’m working an evening shift. I shall record the game and threaten the people at work with unspeakable acts of violence should they mention the score.

    Mmmm, Rabada.

  • When was Gary Ballance’s third chance? Debut 2014, dropped 2015. Recalled 2016, dropped 2016? Confusing with his 4 Hundreds?

    South Africa had some good results since the 2016 series with England, Abbott quite a big loss for someone who wasn’t certain to be a first choice player because he would have played some of the matches because they are close together.

    I could sort of understand the Dawson decision if it was about admitting that Moeen Ali isn’t going to make it as a spinner, batting him at 5 to see if he can do that in the Ashes but that isn’t what they are doing. Are they hoping Bairstow will miss a couple of chances and they can get Foakes (or more likely Golden boy Buttler) in?

    • Gary Ballance:

      Chance 1 – initial call up, dropped after Ashes due to poor run
      Chance 2 – recalled for Pakistan series summer 2016, did poorly
      Chance 3 – unbelievably retained for India tour, looked poor and was ultimately unselectable
      Chance 4 – recalled for South Africa series … outcome TBC

      • He played 15 Tests up to the 2nd Ashes Test of 2015, was dropped. Came back in 2016, played 4 Tests against Pakistan and 2 against Bangladesh was dropped.

        Only carried drinks in India, Guess we will agree to disagree

        • There was a gap between the home Pakistan tests and the Bangladesh tour. Most agreed he should’ve been dropped after last summer, but the selectors gave him another undeserved chance to tour (that surprised most observers).

          I’m talking about lives / chances not recalls. Pakistan was his second chance to impress (blown), Bangladesh/ India the third (blown), and now he’s on his fourth. Hope that makes sense.

          • I get what you mean, I am surprised he has come back to favour so quickly. Like you said he was unselectable in India we had to play Jos Buttler at 7 as a batsmen!

            Well I blame the selectors for that they had a perfectly good Lions tour of the UAE to draw from but refused and then later had to call Jennings anyway

  • Despite lacking their 2 best batsmen and their best bowler, do we have the attack to bowl them out twice? To win test matches this is the bottom line. It doesn’t much matter how many runs you score, within reason, winning tests is about taking wickets. Very few tests are won by the side batting last. I imagine it will be a good wicket for 3 or 4 days, so winning the toss is important, assuming they follow the Ritchie Beneaud school of test match tactics. ‘Win the toss, think about fielding, then bat.’ Are our ‘spin twins’ of Dawson and Ali going to be able to exploit conditions later on? Are South Africa better eqipuipped?
    It has to be said that so far this summer South Africa have been disappointing and they need to raise their game considerably to beat us in English conditions.

  • Let’s hope it’s a good series although both teams seem to me to be quite a bit weaker than they were than when they last met in England.

    SA won’t tour England again until 2022 (when they share the summer with NZ so it’s doubtful they’ll get even four Tests) and England will have played India twice in five Test series (in 2018 and 2021) in-between.

    This is assuming Cricnfo’s article on the international schedule between 2019 and 2022 was correct.

  • I genuinely can’t call this series, normally I start the test match summer full of optimism but I do fear for us, there are more questions than answers and Rabada is going to ask some very tough questions.
    The pitches will be interesting, 2 of the 1st 3 tests are in London which has had a very dry year so could they crumble. As mentioned both batting line ups are the weak part.
    England could really do with winning at Lords with the very fine Du Plessis missing but at this moment I’m struggling to see how we score the runs.
    If we get to OT level and it has some of its traditional pace, I can only see SA winning the series, but that’s 3 tests away and things could change quickly

  • Interestingly the Evening Standard tonight says “England are including two specialist spinners” Really? Who? Dawson and Moen are batsman who bowl a bit of “spin”. Surely Roland Jones should play on his home ground? Dawson is no more that a test number 8 at best. Not sure why he is considered to be better bet, Dawson a slightly better bat but he is a specialist spinner. emmm… Crane is a good looking young leggie who I watched bowl 38 tight overs today on a pitch so flat at the Oval it had gone to sleep. 1/122. 3 runs an over.

    As for the rest well for a start Stoneman should be opening not Jennings. What’s he done this season to justify a call up? I hope Balance shows his recentcounty form but I doubt it. He still doesn’t move his feet.

    Broad and Stokes are not fully fit, and while I prefer Wood over the rest of the seamers, the odds he’ll get through a 5 day test without injury are not great.

    Not an impressive selection by England. If Root, Cook and Bairstow don’t fire my money is on SA. Otherwise we may just shade it.

  • Eng will win and the media will laud the team as world class for beating a sub standard Saffa team.

    • A sub standard South African side who recently triumphed in Australia and are ranked 2nd in the world?

  • I actually think SA’s attack is potentially more potent than England’s, given the injury problems of Broad and Anderson. I also like the variety of the height of Morkel, pace of Rabada and wicket taking ability of Philander, therefore can see Eng getting rolled over more easily than SA. I do worry that Jimmy might go downhill fairly quickly and for all his skills, he may struggle this summer and in the Ashes.

    Think they’ve chosen Ballance as a stop gap due to the young Prince’s problems, but don’t get it, apart from the influence of Root for his club mate – that influence obviously didn’t count in Rashid’s favour though. Although I don’t share James’ arithmetic of a ‘4th’ recall, the damning statistic was 6 tests last year for 1 50 and an average of 19.

    • The explanation is quite simple – he tops the CC averages.
      I agree that he’s a stop gap, and I wouldn’t put much money on his holding the place for any length of time (not least as he’s out of position at 3), but who else has made a case this season ?

      England have been looking for a reliable number three for a long time now, and there isn’t a obvious solution.
      A couple of openers showing some form wouldn’t go amiss, either.

  • Umm – unlucky on your batting predictions, James.

    The South Africans must be kicking themselves over the missed chances.


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