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Getting ready for the Oval


England_South_Africa_CricketBefore the start of the Test series between England and South Africa, the hosts were considered firm favourites. They were playing at home and South Africa were unable to field a full-strength squad. The greatest fast bowler of the current generation, Dale Steyn, was injured and both AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis were absent due to personal reasons. 

South Africa’s woes were further compounded when they lost the first Test by a mammoth margin of 211 runs. To make matters worse, Kagiso Rabada had been banned from the second Test for earning a 4th demerit point by swearing. 

Any other team would have found it extremely difficult to come back and might have resigned themselves to losing the series. However, South Africa are a formidable and resilient cricketing nation and they bounced back to win the second Test by 340 runs. 

They have won their last 2 Test series in England and they showed that they are a side you underestimate at your peril. Even before the second Test England had problems of their own, in spite of winning the first Test comprehensively. Their batting was heavily dependent on Joe Root and Alastair Cook and their remaining batsmen were not coming to the party. South Africa’s win in the second Test has set up the series nicely. A win for either side in the 3rd Test will ensure that they cannot lose the series. Here’s what both sides need to do to lift their game and take a 2-1 lead in the Test series.


Spend more time at the crease

It is easy to be critical of a team that lost a Test by a huge margin of 340 runs and point out flaws in their game. However, the galling thing for England was that they batted just 96.1 overs in their two innings combined. That was nowhere near enough on a pitch that was difficult to bat on but was by no means unplayable. 

Only two of England’s batsmen batted more than 50 deliveries in the first innings and one batsman batted more than 50 deliveries in the second innings. England need to go back to the old-fashioned virtues of batting in Test cricket and spend time in the middle. A lot of their batsmen tried to hit their way out of trouble and that rarely works in Test cricket.

More contributions from the top/middle order

Every team has one or two batsmen on whom they are reliant on to post huge totals but no team can depend on just two batsmen to score the runs. Only Root and to some extent Cook have scored runs in this series and that is a recipe for disaster. Keaton Jennings and Jonny Bairstow need to contribute for England to post a huge total. Gary Ballance’s replacement, Tom Westley, will have to step up his game as he is making his Test debut batting one down. It is asking too much to expect the lower order to bail you out of trouble every time.

Moeen Ali needs to bowl more overs

Moeen Ali is considered by the England team management as an all-rounder who bats at number 7 and bowls useful off-spin, while Liam Dawson is someone who is primarily picked for his left arm orthodox spin. Moeen had match figures of 10/112 in the first Test and Root still brought on Liam Dawson to bowl before Moeen in the second Test because they felt that he was their first-choice spinner. However, they need to be pragmatic and bring Moeen on sooner as he is the man in form, especially if the wicket is assisting spin.

James Anderson needs support 

James Anderson picked up 7 wickets in the second Test but did not receive adequate support from Broad and Wood. If there are 3 pace bowlers in the team, they need to work in tandem and put in a united, concerted effort. No matter how capable Anderson is, he cannot be expected to shoulder the entire pace bowling burden on his own and the others have to chip in. Even Ben Stokes has to stand up and be counted. This will apply doubly so for Toby Roland-Jones, who will be making his debut in place of Mark Wood at the Oval.

South Africa

Experienced batsmen need to convert starts

With AB de Villiers opting out of the tour and Duminy dropped from the squad for his disappointing form, South Africa’s batting line up is inexperienced. Amla and du Plessis are the only players with a significant amount of experience. Amla has got starts in most of his innings but the big knock has eluded him. He needs to convert his starts into centuries. That will lift the morale in the dressing room and enable South Africa to post impregnable totals.

The welcome return of Kagiso Rabada

Rabada was banned from the second Test and Duanne Olivier was drafted in his place. When Rabada comes back, the South African pace attack will acquire an even more formidable look as all the four bowlers are different in addition to being quality bowlers. Morkel generates a lot of bounce in addition to his pace while Vernon Philander bowls a nagging line and length in the corridor of uncertainty at a brisk pace. 

Rabada has a wise head on his shoulders for one so young and is capable of blinding pace. With England’s top order looking increasingly vulnerable, the South African quicks will sense blood and an opportunity to bowl England out cheaply.

The Proteas lower order needs to continue making huge contributions with the bat

These days tail-enders are also expected to contribute with the bat and South Africa have a wealth of resources in that area. Both Philander and Morris are capable batsmen and scored useful runs in the second Test while Rabada and Morkel are no mugs either. The runs scored by the middle and lower order of the Proteas could prove to be the difference between the two sides.

England will shuffle their side while South Africa bunker down with theirs. Both sides have a number of areas where they can improve. The third Test promises to be exciting, with the series up for grabs.


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