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Clash of prides in familiar territories - England tour of South Africa preview

Clash of prides in familiar territories - England tour of South Africa preview
Dale Steyn (left) will be charged up to bowl to England captain Alastair Cook (right).
©REUTERS / Action Images

Sometimes, when you are battered and ground to dust, it is not such a bad thing to start from scratch in familiar surroundings.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings put 15 points between South Africa, ranked number one and England, ranked number five. However, both teams are coming from similar journeys.

The Proteas are back from a 0-3 drubbing in Tests at the hands of India, having abjectly failed to handle quality spin or turning tracks; this after, winning the One-Day International series 3-2 and taking the Twenty20 International series.

England lost their away Test series to Pakistan in United Arab Emirates 0-2 but redeemed themselves in the shorter format, winning the ODI series 3-1 and the T20I series 3-0.

When was the last time England were redeemed by their playing style in the shorter format? Talk of a great resurgence isn’t it?

Now both the teams will be baying against each other under conditions which will suit them. South Africa’s pacer-friendly wickets will help both England and South Africa bowlers. 

The two teams will stash away all but their main spinners and look to unleash their tall, lanky bowlers who will coax swing, seam movement and bounce off the lively tracks.

The last time the two teams met, in 2012, South Africa scripted a great tale beating England in their own den 2-0, winning the final Test by an innings and 12 runs. That was part of their remarkable journey to the top of the rankings, a position they haven’t relinquished since. 

One wonders if this England team is still smarting from that defeat considering they might still retain the high of winning the Ashes recently. For both teams, there are numerous talking points.

For example, South Africa would hope that their Test skipper would rediscover the form he lost somewhere in the cracks of the Indian pitches. Amla’s wretched tour would easily go down in his career as the worst, as he failed in all formats. AB de Villiers adjudged ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year, was the lone warrior in India.

South Africa will take heart from the fact that Faf du Plessis, who garnered an ICC award for a great T20I innings against West Indies, will likely find form on pitches he understands well. 

The return of Dale Steyn, probably fresh after missing out in India will be a boost, although South Africa will rue the absence of Vernon Philander, who was injured during the India tour. Morne Morkel, who suffered a groin injury late in the tour is likely to come back reinvigorated.

South Africa’s pace battery despite Philander’s absence seems formidable with Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada both demonstrating their abilities handsomely in adverse sub-continental conditions.

The South African squad for the first two Tests clearly shows they are sticking to the side that played the final Test in India with either Stiaan van Zyl or Temba Bavuma likely to pair up with Dean Elgar at the top and Dane Piedt being the preferred spinner ahead of Tahir, given South Africa’s proclivity towards economical spinners.

England have a solid Alastair Cook at the top, carrying the confidence of an extremely productive 2015, when he finished as the highest run-scorer in Tests.

Although Moeen Ali, the experimental opener in UAE is in the squad, Alex Hales, who is confirmed as Cook’s partner for the first Test will be looking to cement his place.

England have a problem with James Anderson not fully fit for the first Test. Their bowling suffer with too much similarity considering both Stuart Broad and Steven Finn are primarily hit-the-deck bowlers.

Whether Chris Woakes could do what Wood did for England in the Ashes is a question that remains to be seen.

It will also be a good experience for England’s premier all-rounder Ben Stokes, who contributed with bat and ball against Australia but didn’t impress at all in the UAE, though he had impressive performances in the warm-up games.

England will rely on Broad in Anderson’s absence hoping for the latter to be match-fit at the earliest after proving his ability even in UAE with 13 wickets at 15.61 apiece – nothing short of sensational.

It will be a big test for Nick Compton, who’ll take up Ian Bell’s slot in a like-for-like replacement, and James Taylor at number five is expected to be a little more enterprising, complementing Joe Root who pretty much influenced the Ashes direction and didn’t do a bad job in the UAE either.

South Africa will look to prey on England’s inexperience considering Gary Ballance is back in the fold as well with both Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, regardless of who picks up the wicket-keeping gloves quite untested in these waters.

England are likely to go with Hales and Cook at the top followed by Compton and Root for the first game. While the lower middle order will comprise of Taylor, Stokes and Bairstow with Ali being the lead spinner batting at number eight.

South Africa would also will be hoping their batsmen – Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy – get some much needed runs under their belt after a poor series in India.

In all likelihood, the series will be determined by which set of batsmen have recovered from their recent debacles! 

© Cricket World 2015