Happy New Year everyone from both Dmitri and myself.
One of the joys of England tours to Australia and South Africa (and it could be New Zealand too if they scheduled it that way) for the spectator is how the Test matches fall, one on Boxing Day and one at New Year. For a cricket fan, tuning in late on Christmas Day or early on Boxing Day for some Test cricket remains one of the pleasures of the game. For those who intend to travel, the same applies, Christmas or New Year in a great destination, sunshine and some good cricket.
It is therefore unsurprising that the perennially popular destination of Cape Town has the potential to be near enough a home game for England, with thousands of Brits descending on Newlands. Few national sporting teams are lucky enough to have the support the England cricket team receive away from home, and if perhaps they haven’t always deserved or fully appreciated it, it remains one of the highlights of the travelling fan’s calendar. (Dmitri here – when I went in 2004/5, a taxi driver taking us from the town centre to our hotel said England’s turnout that year was the most overseas sports fans he’d ever seen. Including Ireland during the Rugby World Cup. It’s a great place to watch test cricket.)
On this occasion, those supporters will arrive at Newlands buoyed by the comprehensive victory in Durban, and with the UK media generally predicting more of the same. At first sight, that confidence may not be misplaced, for Dale Steyn is out of the match having twice pulled up lame in the first match, and Kyle Abbott – himself a replacement for Vernon Philander – facing a fitness test on his hamstring before seeing if he’s fit to play. Steyn’s place looks certain to be taken by the raw 20 year old Kasigo Rabada. He may be relatively unknown, but he took 6-16 on his ODI debut against Bangladesh last year (checks…yes, last year now) and is highly rated by the likes of Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald. One thing he appears to possess in abundance is pace, being clocked at 94mph in that match; England haven’t always handled express pace well, particularly on bouncier, pacier wickets.
Yet despite the bowling problems, at Kingsmead the Proteas bowling stocks performed fairly well, it was the batting that let them down. And here is where media confidence in England may end up misplaced. For Dean Elgar was the best batsman on either side, and Hashim Amla will surely return to form at some point soon.
AB De Villiers is being relieved of his wicketkeeping duties, with Quinton de Kock returning to the line up. That selection would be at the expense of either Temba Bavuma or JP Duminy, and with Rabada replacing Steyn, the selection quota is satisfied, so the expecation would be that Bavuma would be the one to make way.
Graeme Smith has been brought in as a batting consultant; a cynic might think that is more about limiting his public comments as much as anything, for it seems unlikely he will have much of an impact beyond a pep talk in one day before a Test match.
England have no such problems, with their only decision concerning the fitness and match fitness of James Anderson. The indications are positive, and Chris Woakes is the most likely to make way. It’s a rare thing where England go 1-0 up away from home and strengthen for the second Test.
It is nearly 60 years since England last won at Newlands, and since South Africa’s re-admission only Australia – who appear to regard it as their second home, so impressive is their record – have beaten the hosts. For England to prevail would represent one of their finer recent away performances.
(Dmitri simple question – something happened on my visit to Newlands in 2005 that has happened on just nine other occasions in the history of test cricket. And no, it’s not that we lost. What is it?)
Day one comments in here!