England have seen some major highs and lows over the past 12 months and whilst winning tests on the road appears to be a struggle for them, they can take a big series win from their tour of South Africa.
They arrive here after a 1-0 series defeat in New Zealand when a massive lower order effort from the hosts put them out of the game as the Blackcaps added 250 for the loss of 2 wickets on the third day before the visitors collapsed in their second innings, and that was then followed by a slugfest when the two sides drew.
England will be disappointed with that series defeat but there was no shame in it; New Zealand had won five of their last six test series leading into their clash with England, and South Africa are not in anywhere near the same nick.
South Africa have lost their last two series, with Sri Lanka winning 2-0 here in February before a 3-0 defat in India. That latter result is not a surprise – it was India’s 11th straight home win in a row – but the nature of the 2-0 defeat to Sri Lanka raises many questions and it’s worth remembering that an England side with more quit
The Proteas have been going through a long and major transition, with Hashim Amla, AB De Villers and Dale Steyn all retiring in recent years, and their squad for the first test contains no less than six uncapped players.
The loss of Temba Bavuma to a hip injury leaves them essentially relying on a core of Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock with the bat, and Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander with the ball. That’s a high quality foursome but they are not the team of old and off field problems (Proteas’ chief executive Thabang Moroe is currently suspended following misconduct allegations whilst former captain Graeme Smith has taken over as acting director of cricket for three months) don’t help either.
The Proteas could end up relying on Quinton de Kock a lot and he makes appeal to be their top scorer in the series. De Kock was beaten in the market to score the most runs in the India series when Dean Elgar’s 160 in the first test there meant that the opener took the honours, but opening is far harder in South Africa, and de Kock’s position at seven is a big help given that the visitors are likely to be well-suited to these conditions. Earlier in the year, he was the top scorer for the hosts in their defeat to Sri Lanka. Faf Du Plessis has to be considered a major threat, but he is favourite at 11/4 and one can get 11/2 with Betway for De Kock to take the honours here.
South Africa will be looking to key pair Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander with the ball here, and Rabada can lead the charge. He has taken the most wickets for South Africa in the last two series and will enjoy the fact the hosts are starting at Centurion, where he’s got a particularly good record. Express pace played a huge part in the Ashes earlier and Rabada has not only the raw speed but also the skill to make life difficult for the more vulnerable targets in the English batting lineup, as he did when taking 13 wickets against England in 2016.
For the visitors, it’s perhaps harder to nail colour to the mast in terms of standout players. Key bowlers Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Jack Leach have all been hit by a bug that’s affected the camp and this will be James Anderson’s first full test in months. Sam Curran could take advantage but that’s an extremely tricky contest to weigh up.
The battle to lead the charge with the bat could provide some more value. Joe Root’s 226 in Hamilton is a hugely important knock going forward but that came on a pan-flat pitch and coming in at 3 in South Africa is going to be much harder. He could still be a rickety favourite to be England’s top scorer and perhaps backing a middle-order batsman could be the way to go.
Ollie Pope played very well for his score of 75 in at Mount Maunganui, and his lower-order position could be far more valuable in this series than it was back in New Zealand. He’s still got a bit to prove but he’s shown that his inclusion’s been worthwhile already and perhaps he could be value for an each/way poke in the England top runscorer charts.
England are favourites for the first test, but that looks worth swerving given the bug that’s hit the camp and also South Africa’s record at Centurion – big wins in eight of the last nine tests at the ground – but this is a four-test series and England, if they can recover full fitness soon, should have nothing to fear from their tour to a side with just as many, if not more questions than themselves.
Bet365’s Match And Series double offers 11/1 on England losing the first test and coming back to win the series, a price which is tempting when one takes the terrible opening record that England has when touring – their recent first test record overseas reads LLWLLDWWDLLLDWD, and two of those wins were against Bangladesh
Advice – Series
5 pts England (11/8 general)
1 pt England 3-1 South Africa (11/2 Bet365)
1 pt South Africa to win the 1st Test & lose the Series (11/1 Bet365)
Series Batting –
1 pt each/way Ollie Pope Top England Batsman (10/1 Bet365, Betway)
1 pt each/way Ollie Pope Top Series Batsman (12/1 Bet365)
1 pt each/way Quinton De Kock Top Series Batsman (11/1 Bet365)
2 pts Quinton De Kock Top South Africa Batsman (11/2 Betway)
Series Bowling –
2 pts Kagiso Rabada Top Series Bowler (9/2 SkyBet)
1 pt Kagiso Rabada Top South Africa Bowler 9/4 Betway)