Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
South Africa vs England | Saturday 2 January | Newlands | Cape Town | 10:30
It seems like just yesterday that the Proteas had wrapped up back to back T20 and ODI series wins in India against arguably one of the best limited overs nations in the world. The boys were putting the disappointment of the World Cup behind them and focusing firmly on two massive bilateral series against the Indians and the English.
Now the Protea Fire that burned so bright on 22 October when Quinton de Kock and co. smashed India by 214 runs at the Wankhede Stadium has been reduced to an ember. Even that ember flickered away ever so slightly after a monumental 241 run defeat on home soil at the hands of an ever-improving England side. Fortunately for the Proteas, there are only two days between the first and second Test, so they needn’t spend too much time licking their wounds before they take to the field at Newlands on New Year’s Day.
To Win Match
South Africa 31/20
It’s been a long time since the South African Test side has been this bereft of confidence. You’d have to cast your mind back to the 2005/06 season when back-to-back series defeats to Australia followed by a 2-0 defeat away in Sri Lanka. Graeme Smith was still learning in his new role as captain, a young AB de Villiers was starting to show signs of the form that would propel him to world stardom and we were still relying far too heavily on Shaun Pollock for wickets.
After that series in Sri Lanka, however, the team would lay the foundations for a dynasty that would last nearly ten years. They’d travel the world brushing aside opposition as they clawed their way to the top of the Test rankings – a position that would never really come under threat until now. After that crushing series defeat in India and the England’s landslide victory in Durban, the world’s number one ranked test side need to find something, anything, to bring the belief back to the dressing room.
There weren’t many positives to take out of the first Test against England, Hashim Amla would have to rely on only two specialist seamers in England’s second innings after Dale Steyn picked up a shoulder strain toward the end of day one. Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott toiled hard but to no avail. Dane Piedt found some turn on the greenish Kingsmead deck and did bag a five-for in the second innings. He bowled well in periods but routinely eased the pressure on the English by missing his line and length.
Dean Elgar is the only player who can really hold his head up high following a catastrophic five days in Durban. The nuggety opener, employing his bizarre unorthodox approach to batting, would go on to score 118* after running out of partners. How disappointed he must be that nobody – with the exception of de Villiers who made 49 – could hang around and support him. Stiaan van Zyl struggled again at the top of the order. He was dismissed for a duck in the South Africa’s first innings after leaving a Stuart Broad delivery that nipped back and clipped the top of off stump. He looked better in the second innings, playing fluently to reach 33 off just 36 balls but had his defence breached by a tame Ben Stokes delivery – bowled again.
Amla’s woes continued as he could only muster 19 runs in two innings. So often the mainstay of the South African innings, the bearded wonder looks a husk of the man who went on to score 311 against England at The Oval in 2011. He has to come good sooner rather than later or his side in the Test squad could be under serious threat.
The side didn’t fare too much better in the field either with Deal Elgar and AB de Villiers dropping routine catches at important periods of the game. A vastly inexperienced slip cordon won’t have the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Morkel in particularly confident mood heading to Newlands. If the side are to get one over England, they’re going to need to take their chances against the likes of Joe Root, Nick Compton and Alistair Cook.
Looking ahead to Newlands there are likely to be a few changes to the squad. Rabada will probably come into the side for the injured Steyn while Rilee Rossouw and Quinton de Kock may well crack the nod ahead of Temba Bavuma and van Zyl. Looking even further ahead, Imran Tahir could well get another look in after a mesmeric performance with the ball for the Dolphins against the Knights in which he bagged 12 wickets in the match including career-best first class figures of 8-42 in the second innings.
The team are going to need a massive performance at Newlands if they’re going to turn their form around heading into 2016.
The England camp will be buzzing after their 241 run victory in Durban earlier in the week. A There are only two real concerns heading into the second test for the English management – is Jonny Bairstow really the right man to have behind the stumps and more importantly, who should open the batting with Cook?
Alex Hales isn’t really a player who is suited to test cricket, his attacking nature and willingness to throw the bat at anything outside of off stump make him a liability at the top of the order. Nick Compton could be promoted to open alongside Cook in his place, but that would mean Gary Ballance would need to come into the middle order. While most English batsmen have quite a pronounced backward and across trigger movement, Ballance gets into an entirely new stance before the ball is even released, with both feet planted firmly behind the crease. While this allows him to create new lengths. Balls on what would normally be considered a good length that force most batsmen to play off the front foot, Ballance can comfortably deal with on the back foot.
But Ballance plays most of his cricket on slow English decks. Playing in South Africa is a completely different story, especially when you consider how much he struggles to deal with the short ball that targets his rib cage – hello, Morne Morkel. Because he’s already so deep in his crease at the point of release, he doesn’t have the room required to ride the extra bounce and often gets himself in trouble that way. Whether or not he actually gets a run at Newlands remains to be seen, though.
The middle order is looking as settled as ever with the two little men, James Taylor and Joe Root more than capable of anchoring the innings. Both proved their worth in the first Test making decent starts but failing to really capitalise with big centuries.
Another positive for England will be how well the likes of Stuart Broad and Steven Finn bowled against the South Africans. Between them, they managed to secure 11 wickets with Broad grabbing a four-for in the first and Finn grabbing four more in the second innings. England’s management will also have to figure out where Jamie Anderson will fit into the side after he returns to the squad having recovered from a calf strain. One feels that he’ll likely come in for Chris Woakes who actually played quite well in Durban.
Moeen Ali – man of the match in Durban – will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling at Newlands, a ground which has traditionally assisted the spinners. If the south easterly gets blowing, you can expect him to find extra drift and bounce. Ali was superb last time out bagging seven wickets – three of which came early on day five to effectively end South Africa’s chances of scraping a draw.
All in all, England are looking good going heading into Newlands and I fully expect them to come out firing as the teams take to the ground on 2 January.
The second Test is set to be played at Newlands, arguably South Africa’s most picturesque ground. Known as a result friendly venue, there have only been 10 draws since the first match was played here in 1889. The last stalemate to occur on the ground was in 2011 South Africa and India could not be separated.
It’s also South Africa’s most spinner-friendly wicket offering plenty of assistance to the slower bowlers. Moeen Ali and Dane Piedt could well come into their own in the latter stages of the match when the pitch begins to deteriorate.
Verdict: South Africa 31/20
South Africa have to come good at some point, and what better place to do it than Newlands? The Proteas have only lost twice in their last 20 matches at the ground and routinely secure big wins against quality opposition in the Cape. Back them to level the series at generous odds of 31/20.
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