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.
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