The international summer in England concludes with a Test series against South Africa with the two sides heading to Lord’s on Wednesday to get things going in the first Test match of three which will be played.
South Africa have already enjoyed themselves in the white ball disciplines on this tour but now both sides compete for World Test Championship points. England failed in the white ball matches earlier in the summer but in Test cricket they have come alive all of a sudden.
After opening up the summer with just one win in 17 Test matches, England now go into this series off the back of four straight wins and the Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum combination clicked into gear and delivered the goods right from the beginning. Those wins came against the last two finalists in the World Test Championship so they carried an awful lot of merit to them and now they will look to polish off another established Test nation.
It wasn’t all perfect for England in those four matches earlier in the summer. They still leaked a lot of runs, however this time the runs came against attacking fields which were looking to bowl teams out rather than in the past when there has been negative captaincy and some very ordinary tactics. England’s batting, so long a hindrance to them, has started playing to its strengths and all of a sudden the English team looks a strong force to be reckoned with, albeit with a style that carries plenty of risks.
South Africa are never not a force in this format of the game though and they head to England off the back of seven wins in their last nine Test matches dating back over the last 14 months or so. That includes a series win from behind over India at the beginning of the year and so they will fancy themselves to be the first ones to knock England off their perch in this match. South Africa never lack for character so the question might be whether they can handle the pressure England will look to put on them.
The key for South Africa winning this match and the series down the line will be whether they can restrain the aggressive approach of the England batters. They certainly have the bowlers to do it but so did New Zealand and India however when they came under attack they were found wanting. South Africa shouldn’t be too out of touch with the bat because their batters got two innings against the England Lions last week, although them losing that match looks ominous for them.
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As has been the case since Ben Stokes was employed as England captain, he has already named his team for this match with Ben Foakes coming back into the side. It is the team which opened up the summer here against New Zealand back in June.
South Africa haven’t yet named their starting XI for the contest so they are keeping us waiting. One reason for that is late fitness checks to Kagiso Rabada. Duanne Olivier has already been ruled out while Simon Harmer may have to wait to feature despite his impressive record in England.
I’ll go with a couple of bets for the opening match of the series with the first of them coming in what is a big price for South Africa to lead after the first innings. Conditions are likely to be testing at Lord’s on Wednesday so it feels like the team with the best technique will be the one to prosper. That is undoubtedly South Africa. With the exception of Joe Root the technique of the English top six is incredibly weak and South Africa have the seamers to take advantage of that. England do too but if South Africa can dead bat the new ball and get to the easier times to bat relatively unscathed then they can take advantage of that later in the innings. England start series terribly these days and none of their players will have played a red ball game for three weeks. Although they lost it, South Africa at least had a warm up game last week and might be in better shape here. 13/8 on them to lead at the halfway mark feels big.
Another price that feels big is the 16/1 on Ben Foakes to top score for England in the first innings. After Root, Foakes is the next best England player technically and that is likely to count for something here, especially if England get inserted under grey and damp skies on the opening morning. Even if they don’t the slope at Lord’s will keep the South African bowlers interested and if they can get Root early then Foakes might be the one to capitalise.
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