South Africa vs England: Boxing Day Test Preview

Written by Jason Dewey for @HollywoodbetsFollow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

South Africa vs England | 26 - 30 December | Sahara Stadium Kingsmead | 10:00

England's tour of South Africa gets underway in earnest when they go head to head with the Proteas at Kingsmead on Saturday morning in one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the year.

Can Alistair Cook and his men get the business down in Durban or will the South Africans be able to bounce back after a miserable Test series in the Sub-Continent which saw them downed 3-0 by India?

To Win Match
South Africa 11/10
Draw 5/2
England 22/10

South Africa
The Proteas will be desperate to bounce back after a 3-0 series drubbing at the hands of India on earlier this year. Hashim Amla and his men put on an abysmal display which saw them crumble in the face of some magnificent spin bowling from the likes of Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja – and although the Indians were assisted by some silly wickets, the South Africans’ inability to read different situations saw them fall well short of their fired-up Asian counterparts. As a South African cricket fan myself, I’m going to put that series firmly behind me and look forward to the very different challenge England will pose.

Dale Steyn will be raring to go after missing out on the bulk of the series against India. The groin strain that he suffered on day one of the first Test against India seemed innocuous enough at the time, with very few people thinking it’d keep him out for the remainder of the series. He stands to make a comeback against England in Durban this Saturday after undergoing an intensive fitness test last week in Cape Town where he was made to bowl at full pace as well as partake in fielding drills. He will likely undergo another assessment this week, but the prognosis looks good for now.

Vernon Philander is still out with ankle ligament damage after trying to emulate Lionel Messi in a warm-up session in India. He is replaced by Kyle Abbott, who I think is deserving of a run in the Test side. While Philander has been a stalwart for upward of four years, he has looked a bit lethargic and slightly over the hill in the last few series he’s been part of. Morkel and Steyn will likely get the new ball with Abbott and the exciting Kagiso Rabada coming on at first and second change respectively.

Abbott, who plies his trade with the Sunfoil Dolphins, knows the Kingsmead conditions better than most and will relish the chance of bowling at a relatively frail English top order. Dane Piedt is the only specialist spinner who has survived the axe after the series in India, with Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer released back to their franchises.

The South African batsmen will be looking forward to batting in more familiar conditions after having spent the better part of 72 days in India. Senior players like Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers are going to need to be at their brilliant best to atone for their failings against the spin-heavy Indian attack.

While the batting stalwarts should come right, I’m most excited to see Temba Bavuma show what he can do on the international stage. His only two test appearances have come against Australia in Mitchell Johnson’s ‘Golden Summer’ and against India during the last series. For a man so small in stature, he shows incredible heart out in the middle. Most impressive, however, is his concentration levels. He played magnificently well when thrown in the deep-end against the likes of Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra in New Delhi – and although he never got a big score, his ability to survive for long periods of time in horrid conditions shows that he has the mental fortitude to succeed at this level.

The English suffered a disappointing 2-0 series defeat last time out against Pakistan in the UAE on some woefully flat wickets that saw bat absolutely dominate the ball. This was highlighted by the first Test in Abu Dhabi in which England amassed 598-9 in response to Pakistan’s 523-8. They now head into this series desperate for a win against the world’s number one ranked side.

England’s primary concern heading into the Boxing Day fixture against the Proteas will be the perceived fragility of their top and middle order. With only Alistair Cooke,  Joe Root and maybe Jonny Bairstow looking like real Test batsman; the likes of Jos Buttler and Alex Hales will need to put their hands up and be counted when it comes to the longest format of the game.

With the perceived weakness in the English batting line-up, it’s probably going to be up to England’s bowlers to get the job done against the South Africans. Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson all have bags of experience at this level and should prosper on Kingsmead’s deck. Steven Finn may well also be in contention for a starting place come Saturday morning. Having joined the squad late, he bowled with pace, control and purpose against South Africa A taking 4-34 in Pietermaritzburg. He's forced the selectors to take note, and after his strong showing in the Ashes earlier this year, he should be involved sooner rather than later on this tour.

No England tour is complete without a bit of controversy, and this one is no different with the selectors having dropped the diminutive Ian Bell batsman after a bit of a lean run. Bell, however, has always looked comfortable in South Africa with the ball coming onto the bat. In seven innings in South Africa, he’s managed 313 runs at an average of 44.71 - surely he should have been given a run in Durban? If the English do struggle with willow in hand during this tour, I suspect Bell may well get a call up.

The first Test will be held at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, just a stone’s throw away from the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The ground was affectionately known as ‘The Lawn’ for its generous grass covering. The wicket almost always provides assistance to the quicker bowlers. There should be a little bit in it for the spinners too as the game goes on, don’t be surprised to see the likes of Dane Piedt, Moeen Ali and Samit Patel get among the wickets.

Verdict: South Africa 11/10
The Proteas will be looking for a big performance after their disappointing showing in India. Expect the likes of de Villiers, Amla, du Plessis, Steyn and Morkel to put in the sort of big performances that saw South Africa crowned the best side in the world. There is a good mix of youth and experience in this side, and although they struggled last time out against Ashwin and co, they do look a lot more settled than England at the minute. Back the Proteas to claim victory at 11/10.

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