The ups and downs of captaincy.
In last week’s first test at Lord’s, Joe Root’s stint as England’s captain started off in fine fashion with a comfortable and convincing win. South Africa wilted in the final innings of the game, resulting in a dramatic collapse to hand England a win on the fourth evening.
Fast forward a week and England are currently in desperate need for wickets to avoid being batted out of the game at Trent Bridge. This time it was England who were found wanting with the bat, despite valiant efforts from the Yorkshire trio of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance. As soon as Root was dismissed for an eye-catching and fluent 78 (the captaincy is yet to show any signs of diminishing his prowess with the bat), England lost their way to be dismissed for just 205 in reply to South Africa’s 335.
After the first test collapse, returning captain Faf du Plessis will be pleased with the resilience shown by his batsmen. Amla continues on his merry way, scoring runs with ease and grace. The promotion of Quinton de Kock up to four, one place above the captain himself, was the correct decision. South Africa’s wicketkeeper is far too good a batsman to be languishing down the order at number seven or eight.
People are starting to compare de Kock with the Australian great Adam Gilchrist, and whilst it is too early in de Kock’s career to draw a full comparison, there is a definite resemblance in the way he takes on the bowling regardless of the state of the game. Gilchrist redefined the role of wicketkeeper-batsmen in the modern game and de Kock is the latest player to continue this trend at the highest level.
Some feel that, like Gilchrist, de Kock is best suited to a lower order role, but I personally feel in this AB de Villiers-less South African batting line up, he really should be up the order to add impetus in the middle order. If he gets in, he can go big. He has had success against England too – his current test highest score of 129* came against England at better than a run a ball at Centurion in 2016.
Whilst many thought South Africa would miss the impact and skills of Kagiso Rabada in this test, the bowlers have stood up impressively. Vernon Philander is an excellent bowler, a good old fashioned swing bowler who will always thrive in English conditions. Morne Morkel too has been at his very best in this series. England struggled with their control and aggression yesterday. Rabada’s naturally full length would have also been a handful on this Trent Bridge wicket. The situation could have been even worse for England had he been playing.
On the other hand, England’s bowling has been largely ineffective. For the majority of the first innings (until James Anderson produced some magic on the second morning) and in this current second innings, the home bowlers have really struggled.
After his Man of the Match performance at Lord’s, Moeen Ali’s off spin has been negated in this test. Mark Wood’s speeds have been down and this has been a problem for Root, with him taking just one wicket so far in the series (he’s currently bowling his 44th over). Wood is regarded as England’s quickest bowler, a man who can unsettle batsmen with his aggressive pace and bounce. But this has been largely unseen. Ben Stokes too hasn’t really threatened.
As we approach lunch on the third day of this test, England are in a position when they are chasing the game. With a seemingly flat pitch and a ball that isn’t moving off the straight, this will prove to be Root’s first serious test of his captaincy. Time will tell if this test can be passed.
But the signs are that we will be heading to The Oval level at 1-1.
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