It is often said – batting wins you matches but good bowling wins you tournaments. The saying goes well with shorter formats but one can also relate it with Test cricket. South Africa lock horns with England in a four-match Test series and the anticipation for the same is on a high. With home advantage becoming a massive factor, England start the series as favourites. It’s a battle between ranked second team in the ICC Test rankings against the ranked fourth side.
With both the swords being equally sharpened, one can expect the series to be filled with action. English conditions have had a reputation of assisting the seam bowlers and South Africa have a solid pace battery to exploit the conditions. The likes of Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris render bowling a joy to behold. Though South Africa are without the service of their frontline bowler Dale Steyn, who is recovering from shoulder injury but they have enough firepower in their artillery to fill in the big shoes. The only spinner in the side is Keshav Maharaj, who has been evolving with every game.
Their bowling lacks a great experience with Morne Morkel being the only bowler to have played over 50 Tests, but it surely inspires confidence. These bowlers are unique in their own way and have tasted a fair amount of success in the recent times. South Africa have fared extremely well in the Tests in the recent times, winning four consecutive Test series. Out of 10 Test series played in the recent times, South Africa have emerged victorious in seven. England will certainly pose a threat to break South Africa’s winning streak.
Vernon Philander missed out on the Tour match as he was nursing an ankle injury and South Africa will be hoping him to be fit for the first Test. Philander has had a tough time in his last two Tests, which he played against New Zealand and remained wicketless. But, he is a frontline bowler and can run through a batting line-up. Philander is not someone who boasts of an alarming speed but his ability to move the ball both the ways stands him apart from others. England is more likely to suit his bowling style as he is one bowler who looks to attack the stumps and with a bit of assistance from the pitch, he can mean business.
Morne Morkel, on the other hand, possesses some serious speed and has a knack of generating bounce from the surface. Morkel looked good in New Zealand and have lived up to the expectations in the recent times. In last 10 Tests, Morkel has scalped 35 wickets at 26.45. Morkel picked a solitary wicket in the Tour match but looked good in the recently concluded ICC Champions Trophy.
Kagiso Rabada is inarguably one of the best bowlers in contemporary cricket and has done a fantastic job with the ball in hand. Rabada is genuinely quick and swings the ball. In just 17 games, he has already picked 71 wickets at 23.69. In last 10 games, Rabada has 47 wickets in his basket. He has been as consistent as the tides when it comes to picking wickets. This will be Rabada’s first assignment on English soil in whites and is undoubtedly the player to watch out for. Rabada also boasts an incredible record against England. In three games against England, Rabada has wreaked havoc by picking 22 wickets 21.90 along with three fifers in six innings.
With Faf du Plessis missing the first Test, South Africa will certainly want to strengthen their batting. And one can expect Chris Morris to get a nod as he has been one of the best all-rounders in contemporary cricket. Morris is a utility cricketer but lacks experience. Theunis de Bruyn is another option to replace Faf du Plessis; he can bowl medium-pace and bat in the middle-order. De Bruyn bowled with a lot of energy and looked in good rhythm in the Tour Match against England Lions, where he picked two wickets.
In the spin department, South Africa have the left-arm spin of Keshav Maharaj, who has impressed with his guile in seven games so far. Maharaj has accuracy as his primary weapon and has bagged 26 wickets from seven Tests so far. Maharaj was outstanding in New Zealand with 15 wickets from three Tests. South Africa also have the option of part-time spin from JP Duminy.
South Africa have the potential in their bowling but lack the experience. Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, De Bruyn and Rabada have impressed with their skills but are yet to play a good number of matches. They have proved their worth and one can expect them to come out hard in this series as well. South Africa lost to England the last time these two teams met in a Test series, which was back in 2015-16 (Basil D’Oliveira Trophy) in their own backyard. But they have been on a roll and will be looking forward to keep their winning record intact. It’s time for South Africa to stand up to the big occasion and deliver. This will be a true test for them as not many teams manage to taste success in England.
South African bowlers have to bring their best game out if they are eyeing to put up a battle. As of now, all eyes are set on Lords as the first Test begins on Thursday.