England aim to maintain unbeaten record in Centurion - Fourth Test preview

England aim to maintain unbeaten record in Centurion - Fourth Test preview
Chris Woakes (left) is likely to replace Steven Finn in the final Test in Centurion.
©REUTERS / Action Images
 

Fourth Test - South Africa v England in Centurion
22nd January | 10:30 local | 08:30 GMT

Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s brilliant former manager, writes in his book ‘Leading’: ‘My appreciation of youthful enthusiasm has only grown. Young people will always manage to achieve the impossible.’

England’s backing of youth has been a feature of their recent up-turn in fortunes. With their two young superstars Joe Root and Ben Stokes to the fore, England are a young side on a mission.

They are not the finished article yet – there are questions around the top order and the bowling reserves - but England have a young generation of cricketers who are defining matches and series. Their potential is endless.

The Test portion of their South African tour finishes this week with the fourth Test at Pretoria’s Centurion starting on Friday. For England, 2-0 up in the series, it provides an opportunity for the young guns to once more show what they can do.

For South Africa, it is a final chance to salvage some pride.

England traditionally do not do well in dead-rubbers. The final game of the Ashes at The Oval a case in point when they were outclassed by Australia. Some would argue there are worst things to be guilty of, but England should not lack for motivation. There is plenty to play for.

The top order has not particularly fired so Alex Hales and Nick Compton will both be keen to score some runs personally. Whatever happens, England must stick with both. Compton in particular adds a solidity to England’s top order and in the first two Tests played well.

Questions remain about Hales but England need some consistency at the top of the order. Anyway, they do not have a surfeit of other options available.

The rest of the batting is in good order. Root’s masterful hundred, the ninth of his short Test career, was the highlight in the last Test but there have been contributions from all the top order except Alastair Cook throughout the series.

On the other hand, South Africa’s batting has looked brittle, with only Hashim Amla’s brilliance in Cape Town giving them any sort of reason for cheer. Stiaan van Zyl has been released from the squad with 33 year-old Stephen Cook called up.

South Africa’s Stephen scored a half-century against England in a tour match before the Test series and has scored two domestic first class hundreds since. Hindsight suggests it would have made sense to pick a genuine opener like Stephen ahead of van Zyl, a number three, from the outset.

Dane Villas, the wicket-keeper who travelled from Port Elizabeth on the morning of the Johannesburg Test to cover for the injured Quinton de Kock, has also been released with de Kock expected to be fit.

England’s bowlers will be chomping at the bit for another crack at the South African batsmen after their capitulation at the Wanderers. Stuart Broad’s 16 for eight has moved him to the top of the International Cricket Council’s bowling rankings, only the third England bowler to do so behind Ian Botham and Steve Harmison.

Broad bowled well in the United Arab Emirates before Christmas without much luck and his Johannesburg spell was another example of the match deciding interventions that he is now known for. His spell at Trent Bridge during the Ashes was similarly destructive. Broad and James Anderson will go down as England’s best ever opening pair.

It is not all rosy for England though. The best bowler of the tour, Steven Finn, has been ruled out with a side strain and will also miss the limited overs leg of the tour. It does however give someone else an opportunity with Chris Woakes the most likely replacement, having played in the first Test in place of the injured Anderson.

Woakes in an underrated cricketer who bowls with decent pace and control. Mark Footitt, the left-armer, may also come in to consideration but Woakes deserves another chance after a decent game in Durban.

South Africa’s pace attack did well in the last test match and Hardus Viljoen looks very much the Test match bowler. Kagiso Rabada’s five-for in the first innings will not be his last at Test level either.
Despite the promise of Rabada and Viljoen, the missing experience of the injured Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander has not helped South Africa’s cause.

Both Steyn and Philander would have found the Johannesburg surface to their liking but the home side has to start planning for a future without them, particularly Steyn, who one feels is nearing the end of his stellar career. Viljoen and Rabada look to be half-decent replacements though.

Dane Piedt’s off-spinners may come back in to consideration for Centurion, with Chris Morris the likeliest to miss out. Piedt took eight wickets for his domestic team last week after being overlooked for the Test match.

The Centurion pitch is regarded as one of the quicker ones in South Africa so it may be that the home side continue without a spinner. It should be also be good for batting, especially on the first three days so it will be bat first for whoever wins the toss.

South Africa have lost only two out of twenty Tests at Centurion since their readmission. One of those defeats, against England in 2000, was later found to be the subject of match fixing with Hansie Cronje manufacturing a result on the final day after the first four were ruined by rain.

It feels like a seminal moment for South African cricket. The side that reached world number one has long gone, and with it a host of top class talent. Replacing the likes of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher is not easy but more has to be done.

With the class of AB de Villiers and Amla, and if Steyn and Philander can return to fitness, all is not lost but the standard of domestic cricket is not producing enough Test ready batsmen in particular and this is their main worry.

A Test win will be scant consolation for a home series defeat but it will at least give some hope for the future.

The same can be said for England. It is too early to start talking of them becoming the number one side in the world but a 3-0 series win would be quite a statement by Alastair’s young team.
A dead-rubber this isn’t.

Prediction:

England should win the Test and the therefore the series 3-0. They are in good form and South Africa look a shattered team.

Probable Team:

England: 1. Alex Hales, 2. Alastair Cook (captain), 3. Nick Compton, 4. Joe Root, 5. James Taylor, 6. Ben Stokes, 7. Jos Buttler (wk), 8. Moeen Ali, 9. Chris Woakes, 10. Stuart Broad, 11. James Anderson

South Africa: 1. Dean Elgar, 2. Stephen Cook, 3. Hashim Amla, 4 . AB de Villiers (captain), 5. Faf du Plessis, 6. Temba Bavuma, 7. Quinton de Kock (wk), 8. Dane Piedt, 9. Kagiso Rabada, 10. Hardus Viljoen, 11. Morne Morkel

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