England vs. South Africa, 4th Test, Preview

So we go into the last Test at Old Trafford with all to play for and though the scoreline on paper at 2-1 looks like it has been a closely fought series, it actually feels that it has been a slightly anti-climatic series with both teams clearly looking like they are in transition. Chris alluded to this in his wrap up of the third Test, that although the series is hanging on a knife-edge, especially without Director Comma’s ‘super series’, that none of the games have been particularly close. As I thought about it a little more, it has been a long while since England have been involved in a series where both they and the opposition have played consistently good cricket in each game of the series. The Ashes in 2015 was an example of a number of wide margin victories as was the Pakistan Test series last summer, where whoever gets on top after Day 2, normally ends up dishing out a bit of thrashing. Now whether this is particularly true just of England (I don’t think it is) or whether the fact that the T20 batting style has crept into the game, resulting in the batsmen failing to put a high price on their wicket, I’m not sure; however most Test enthusiasts amongst us yearn to see another up and down series like the New Zealand Tests in 2015. Whether or not that happens in the near future, I do have my doubts.

From an England point of view, the best thing that they can do is not to think about the dreaded word ‘momentum’. This seems to lull them into a false sense of security as the 2nd Test of the summer showed and instead concentrate on doing the basics right as they did at the Oval. Cook and Stokes played wonderfully contrasting innings in England’s first knock, which resulted in them being around 75 runs above par in tricky batting conditions and all of the bowlers (perhaps with Jimmy excepted) all bowled magnificently. From then, the game was won. It has been particularly interesting to see the reaction of the Media to Toby Roland-Jones’ performance with one or two high profile names already clamoring that he doesn’t have the pace to threaten the Australian batsmen in their home conditions. I find this particularly strange when they have quite rightly been gushing in their praise for Vernon Philander, especially as TRJ bowls around the same speed as Philander and relies on accuracy and a bit of movement to eek good batsmen out (for the record Philanders’ average in Australia is a touch under 30). Now I’m fully aware that most of the media and written press don’t sully themselves with watching county cricket, but if they had, then they might have realised that TRJ has consistently been getting wickets at an average of circa 27 on what is the flattest deck in the country, still I guess that this either doesn’t fit their rhetoric or that they are too lazy to do any research! For me, TRJ has to stay in the team for the rest of the summer at least.

It was also interesting to see Bayliss say that England don’t need 8 batsmen, especially when the English batting line up has a regular habit of falling in heap. Now it is clear to most that Malan hardly had a stellar debut (it happens), but using this as a logic to try and shoehorn Dawson, the very essence of a bits and pieces player, back into the team is just crazy in my opinion and smacks of a certain ‘mood hoover’ having a little word in his ear. For me, England should name exactly the same team for Old Trafford unless the pitch resembles something a bit like the Wankhede! I was also surprised and a little disappointed to see Finn called up as cover for Mark Wood. Now as most on here know, I am a great Finn supporter; however his performances over the past 2 years haven’t backed the selectors faith in having him around the squad; indeed he has been pretty mediocre even in county cricket, which pains me to say. I personally think that Craig Overton or even Jake Ball would have been a better choice as cover; however unless one of England’s main fast bowlers suddenly breaks down tomorrow (I’m writing this on Wednesday evening), then I would simply be amazed if they don’t go with the same seam attack as they did at the Oval.

As for South Africa, they do seem to have some standout players, some players who are probably not up to Test Cricket (yes Heino Kuhn I’m looking at you) and some players with talent who are absolutely frustratingly inconsistent. As for the batting attack, Dean Elgar has to be one of the best openers in the world at the moment, sure you wouldn’t pay the entrance fee just to watch him, but he is someone who has true grit and is able to get the most out of what is a somewhat limited technique. If I was the England batting coach, I’d be making Cook watch his innings at the Oval on repeat, as that was the sort of inning that Cook made his name from in the past. It would also be surprising if both Du Plessis and Amla bat as badly as they did in the 3rd Test, so it would not be a shock to see their batting line up roar back in the 4th Test, England certainly can’t approach it as if the job is done. The seam bowling line up on paper is also one of the best line-ups in the world with Philander (if you can keep him on the pitch), Rabada and Morkel all capable of running through the side. Morris for me, is the wildcard of the South African attack, capable of bowling brilliant spells followed by a spell of utter trash; he sort of reminds me of Andy Caddick, not through looks or bowling action, but that both could be a match winner when they were fully switched on, yet on other days when they simply didn’t fancy it they’re prone to send down a succession of floaty half volleys asking to be hit. South Africa will certainly hope the focused Morris turns up on Friday.

Dmitri, Chris and myself are at the Oval on Friday night getting down with the beered up T20 massive (do say hello if you plan to be there yourselves), so Danny will be on the decks on Friday for the Day 1 report.

As ever thoughts and comments below are always appreciated.