England brushed past an uninspiring South African unit at Lord’s in the first Test. Such was the dominance exhibited by the hosts in the first Test that fans and critics alike have dismissed South Africa’s chances in the series. That said, South Africa have been pretty good travelers in the past decade and have won important series’ away from home.
The return of Faf du Plessis, an inspiring leader and a composed Test batsman capable of holding together a batting line-up on his own, should give South Africa some hope. Du Plessis was at the helm of South Africa’s recent triumphs in Australia and New Zealand and also oversaw a drubbing of Sri Lanka at home.
England, on the other hand, looked settled and cheerful under their newly appointed skipper, Joe Root. They had all bases covered in a dominant performance and should fancy their chances to sweep the series in the next two matches. The venue for the next Test, Trent Bridge, is not one which has been friendly to the visitors.
They have lost both matches played at the venue since their readmission while England boast of a 6-1 win-loss record at the venue in the last seven games played there. However, South Africa are no pushovers and England’s path may not be as thorn-free as they assume it to be. Here we take a look at few a ways in which England can effectively seal the series against the Proteas by taking an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Batting them out of the game
With KagisoRabada suspended and Vernon Philander a doubtful starter, England batsmen have half their task cut out. Although South Africa have able replacements available, the intensity and pace that Rabada provides is something which they would sorely miss. England have cherished batting teams out of Test matches at home and a similar approach would stand them in good stead against a depleted Proteas attack.
Joe Root, in the company of Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad, effectively did that at Lord’s even with Rabada in the line-up. The task should be easier at Trent Bridge. That said, complacency is a dangerous thing and Root and co need to remember that their knocks were built on South Africa’s missed chances. The Proteas are known for their vibrancy in the field and another let-off may not be on the cards if the England batsmen falter with their strokes.
Targeting the soft belly
That South Africa’s Test batting of late revolves around Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis at the top is a well-known fact. HashimAmla has struggled to keep up his form in recent months and bowlers have been adept at forcing mistakes from the veteran batsman. JP Duminy, on the other hand, is a walking wicket these days but he is unlikely to play with Theunis de Bruyn expected to retain his place. Even then, a middle-order comprising of an out of form Amla, de Bruyn and Bavuma is soft.
Exposing de Kock before the second new ball is taken is something which England could be targeting. De Kock showed how dangerous a batsman he can be against the brand new cherry in Lord’s but he had a stable Bavuma at the other end. The key to softening de Kock could be to run him out of partners at the other end. Bavuma could be the target for England’s quickies at Trent Bridge. The short statured batsman has often played a brilliant hand in de Kock’s knocks from no.7 and roughing him up could put South Africa in trouble.
The Maharaj factor
England showed the way for other teams at Lord’s with their handling of Keshav Maharaj. The wily left-arm spinner has been a perfect foil for South Africa’s seamers in Tests of late. He has kept one end quiet while the pacers chip away from the other end. But taking him on was the first thing Root and Stokes did at Lord’s and it showed immediate results.
With the lack of support from Maharaj, Rabada failed to settle into a rhythm and Dean Elgar, the stand-in skipper ran out of ideas. Although Maharaj did make amends with a sensational second innings spell that triggered England’s collapse, the nature of the pitch played a vital role in it. With Trent Bridge not known for slowing up, Maharaj could once again be targeted by England.
Using Broad and Wood wisely
Joe Root is still on the learning curve as a captain and will be required to adapt quicker than expected with two tough assignments in the year including the Ashes. Managing bowlers who rely on rhythm is a crucial factor in the success of any captain. Take for example how Ricky Ponting used Brett Lee or Graeme Smith used Dale Steyn.
Such bowlers win matches in a session and need to be given freedom and confidence. This is where Joe Root will need to adopt a similar kind of approach with his strike bowlers, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood. While Broad, an experienced campaigner, has a phenomenal Test record at Trent Bridge including an 8/15 against the Aussies at the last Ashes, he is a rhythmic bowler and thrives on confidence. Inspiring him to his best would be one major task for Root. Akin to Broad, Wood has raw pace and is relatively fresh in the International circuit. He was instrumental in England’s ODI series win against the Proteas and in their surge to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy. Given the right dosage of responsibility, Wood could be England’s X-factor in the series.