With two more games to go in the four-match Test series, the onus of making a comeback is on England going into the third encounter at The Oval. South Africa did exceptionally well in bouncing back at Nottingham and square the series. England’s batting floundered like nine pins at Nottingham and failed to even put up a fight in the fourth innings. England suffered a blow prior to the third Test as their No. 3 batsman, Gary Ballance, broke his finger and has been ruled out of the crucial contest at The Oval.
Ballance earned a national callback riding on a prolific run in the domestic circuit. But didn’t manage to replicate his magical performance in the ongoing series. In four innings so far, Ballance got promising starts in three but failed to convert into massive scores and scored 85 runs at 21.25. His hopes would have been pinned on the next Test but a mistimed injury has unfortunately ruled him out.
Tom Westley and Dawid Malan has been drafted in England’s 13-man squad for the third encounter. Westley has been in magnificent form in the domestic circuit and has scored runs in heap for Essex. Westley has scored three tons in his six most recent First-Class outings. Dawid Walan has been roped in to strengthen their middle-order. England lost the second encounter by a massive margin of 340 runs. But it will be interesting to see if England opt for an extra batsman and give Malan a nod in the third game.
Westley bats at No.3 for Essex and has garnered 478 runs at an awe-inspiring average of 53.11 in the ongoing County Championship. Westley was also a part of the England Lions side that locked horns with South Africa in the Tour game. Westley did a fantastic job at three in scoring an unbeaten 106 and built a solid platform.
Prior to the squad selection, the strongest contenders for replacing Ballance were – Mark Stoneman, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan and Tom Westley. But Westley and Malan made the cut. Malan made an impressive international debut for England last month in a T20I game against South Africa, where he smashed 78 off 44 deliveries.
Stoneman also had an impactful run in the County Championship, scoring three centuries in eight games but England have persisted with Keaton Jennings at the top. And the fact that Westley got his runs at 3 might have worked in his favour as Ballance bats at the same position for England.
Westley has some impressive numbers to his name in the recent times. In last two seasons, Westley has scored 1695 runs at 52.96 with two centuries. Westley also boasts of a second-best average for a No.3 batsman in County Championships since 2015. His average of 57.25 at the said position stands him out and has worked in his favour. Also, Westley carries massive experience on his shoulders. The 28-year-old right-handed batsman has featured in 141 First-Class games, scoring 8050 runs at a healthy average of 37.44. But his recent form has been outstanding and garnered attention. To add to Westley’s advantage, he could also provide England with an additional option of handy off-spin.
Westley has scored runs against the touring sides in the past and has fared well in the recent times. On playing for England, Westley was quoted in a report from The Independent saying, “I’m desperate to play for England, it would be an absolute honour. I’ve felt good the last few years at Essex. My First-Class record has been very good. I’ve scored runs for the Lions and scored runs against the touring First-Class teams. I’ve been in a good space for a number of years. So if there’s ever a time to play it would be now.”
There is no doubt about Westley’s form but South Africa will be a tough nut to crack. Going by the numbers, the odds are in his favour as he also did well in the Tour Match, which didn’t have Vernon Philander. It is likely that Westley will make his England debut at The Oval but has a massive responsibility to shoulder. England opening pair woes has continued for a while now and the onus of scoring big runs will come down to him if Cook and Jennings fail to get a good start.
On the other hand, South African bowling attack looked dominant in the second Test and will be boosted by the return of Kagiso Rabada, who was suspended for the second Test for Ben Stokes send-off. South Africa will probably play four frontline pacers at The Oval, which will test England’s batting.
For Westley, this will be a different challenge altogether. This will be a different experience altogether. His prolific run in the domestic circuit was enough to earn him a call in the lineup, and now he needs to replicate similar magic against the red cherry for England. This is also his golden opportunity to make an impact and make his presence unavoidable for the future.
In last two years, England have experimented with as many as five batsmen for the number three position. Joe Root, Moeen Ali, Nick Compton, Ian Bella and Gary Ballance have batted at three. Root did a commendable job at three but has found more success at four. It is unlikely that Root will promote himself and will continue to bat at four, which gives Westley a golden opportunity to secure a make his case stronger for number 3.
England squad for the third Test: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Tom Westley, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Mark Wood, Toby Roland-Jones, Laim Dawson, David Malan.