With the first part of the English summer this year being dominated by white ball cricket, the attention of the cricketing public will turn to the red ball this week. The first test of the highly anticipated series between England and South Africa begins on Thursday.
England have named an interesting squad for the series. In Joe Root’s first series as captain, uncapped Toby Rowland-Jones and Liam Dawson feature. It is widely anticipated that Dawson will be the one to miss out when the final eleven is named.
Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance is back in the squad after a scintillating start to the 2017 season. In eight games, Ballance has amassed 815 runs at an average of 101.88. The man who appeared to have been written off after a winter in the subcontinent is suddenly the form man England have returned to.
It will be interesting to see where he bats. His early success in his test career came at number three, but I would suggest it is unlikely that he will bat there. My top order would be 1. Cook, 2. Jennings, 3. Root, 4. Bairstow, 5. Ballance. Having said that, I consider Surrey’s Mark Stoneman to be really unfortunate not to have been selected. He too has been fantastic in Division 1 of the County Championship in 2017, with 657 runs at an average of 59.73. Compared to Jennings’ 399 runs at 36.27 in Division 2, I’d hoped that the England selectors would have gone with Stoneman. Maybe his chance will come later in the summer.
The rest of the squad is pretty much as expected, meaning James Anderson and Stuart Broad are both fit enough to be included. This will be a significant boost to England, especially as they are coming up against a formidable South Africa batting lineup. England will be, as ever, heavily reliant on the skills with the new ball of these two premier fast bowlers to take early wickets.
Mark Wood is also back in the test squad after frustrating injuries of late, but he appeared to be in good form in the recent T20I series and is worthy of his inclusion. Rowland-Jones has been in and around the squad for some time now and will be keen to make his test debut on his home ground this week.
England will be hoping that Anderson, Broad, Wood and Ben Stokes will all be able to make it through the series without picking up injuries, with all having recent fitness struggles. With Chris Woakes also still out, they can do without further injury worries in such a significant series.
South Africa will be hoping for a turn of fortunes moving into the red ball game. They have been beaten in both the ODI and T20I series so far, as well as having a disappointing Champions Trophy campaign.
But in test cricket South Africa are an exceptional unit. The number two ranked team in this format have won their last four test series, with their last series defeat coming against England in early 2016. Most recently, they toured New Zealand in March, picking up a 1-0 win in a series heavily impacted by rain.
Take a look at the test batting rankings and you will see Quintin de Kock, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis in the top 20. They will score runs. South Africa’s batting line up, even without AB de Villiers, looks strong and England will have to bowl well on what could turn out to be some flat wickets as we move into the main part of the English summer. In the series warm up game, the South Africans racked up 382/4dec, demonstrating their form. Opener Dean Elgar has been in great touch for Somerset this season too, so look out for him during the series. England will have to get him early, because he can make big runs.
South Africa’s fast bowling department also looks strong. The ever impressive Kagiso Rabada will spearhead the attack and I look forward to watching him bowl with the red ball. It was with the red ball against England that Rabada burst onto the scene in the 2016 series mentioned earlier. He was a shining light for South Africa in that series. He is a precocious talent and he will be a leading bowler in world cricket for years to come.
Vernon Philander is a very skillful bowler and I feel that English conditions will suit him well. He has played in county cricket previously and that preparation will stand him in good stead for the series. Morne Morkel we all know about. He impressed in the recent T20s and should have a major say on the test series with his extra bounce.
It promises to be a great series, with four tests in just over a month. For the cricket purists, this is what they have been waiting for. The razzmatazz of coloured clothing, lights and music have faded into the past and the peaceful, steady pace of test cricket is once again in the limelight. I for one can’t wait.
I expect all four venues; Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Oval and Old Trafford to produce excellent surfaces which will serve up some great cricket between two very strong test sides.
Follow us on Twitter @yorkedcricket
Follow this blog by clicking the “Follow” button and adding your email address to receive updates when new blogs are posted!