England host South Africa for a four-match Test series starting on Thursday, July 6th, at Lord’s. The Proteas, known as exceptional travellers, have had considerable success in England in the past few years. England, on the other hand, have lost three skippers after South African series’ underlining the strength of the visitors.
However, Proteas are without AB de Villiers, their Tests skipper, Faf du Plessis for the first Test alone and Dale Steyn. Dean Elgar, the stand-in skipper for Lord’s has a lot on his shoulders when he leads his men onto the historic ground for the first match of the series.
England are no different with their senior player, Alastair Cook, giving up captaincy a few months back. Joe Root has taken up the mantle of the Test side but he has a huge task on hand first up. All in all, the England-South Africa series promises to be an exciting watch for cricket fans across the globe. Here we take a look at the key players in the series.
1. Kagiso Rabada
Hailed as South Africa’s strike force across formats, the young lanky fast bowler has been thrust with a lot of responsibility since his debut. He hasn’t disappointed one bit though, putting up an exhibition of fast bowling in the past few months. In the absence of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for a large portion of 2016, Rabada took over as the leader of the pack and did an outstanding job.
England will remember his scintillating spell in the fourth Test of the series in 2015/16. He finished the Test with figures of 13/144, the second best by a South African in Test history. Known for mixing up his lengths and bowling sharp yorkers, Rabada is a complete package and will once again be the trump card for South Africa in this Test series. His short stint with Kent in 2016 will also stand him in good stead.
2. Joe Root
Handed over the reins of the Test side, the golden boy of Yorkshire cricket has a chance to stamp his legacy as a leader in English cricket. Not one to experience captaincy much at County level, Root is a rookie and has a big series as his very first assignment. However, his composure and calm demeanor should help him take to captaincy like fish to water.
While his captaincy will be shrewdly judged, Root has to maintain his batting standards right through the series. With the likes of Steven Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson averaging more with the bat as captains, Root has a reputation to keep up. The inclusion of Gary Ballance in the side suggests that Root might be considering moving himself back to no.4 in the line-up.
3. Dean Elgar
Opening the batting is one of the toughest tasks in England soil. Dean Elgar had little time to get accustomed to that before he was greeted with the news that he would be leading the nation for the first Test at Lord’s. With du Plessis unavailable, South Africa have not only lost an entrancing skipper but also an unfluctuating batsman.
Elgar, likened to Graeme Smith for his toughness and grit at the wicket will have to imbibe some captaincy skills as well from the former South African skipper when he takes the field on Thursday. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Elgar will be a key figure for South Africa right through the series. The southpaw has to ensure that he gets the Proteas off to good starts while motivating his partner, Heino Kuhn, who is relatively new to International Cricket. How he handles Broad and Anderson’s new ball spells will be a highlight of the series.
4. Ben Stokes
The dynamic England all-rounder has grown from a hot-headed, aggressive, coarse youth to a passionate and motivated player. The change, it can be said, started from a spectacular 163 ball double hundred he slammed against the Proteas in Cape Town last year. He went on to make 258 and has been an indispensable player for England since then.
As South Africa travel back to England for the return series, the talk is inevitably around Ben Stokes. He has improved as a bowler since that series and the Proteas are known to stutter when the attack is taken to them, something which Ben Stokes revels in. His sharp bouncers will also be an added weapon against Hashim Amla, the glue that holds the Proteas line-up together.
5. Keshav Maharaj
The innocuous left-arm spinner was seen as a containing bowler when included in the Test side. He was expected to hold one end tight while the wicket-taking seamers ripped through line-up’s from the other end. However, the Indian-born spinner has exceeded expectations and been a strike force for the Proteas in his short career thus far.
Back to back five-fers against the New Zealand in conditions favouring seamers has made Maharaj a vital weapon for the Proteas. He was exceptional in Australia as well, switching between attacking and defending as the situation demanded. In England, with the focus on the likes of Philander, Rabada and Morkel, Maharaj could be a bit of an unknown and underrated bowler in the line-up. England’s woes against spin are familiar and Maharaj might just turn out to be the difference between these sides.