Joe Root marked his captaincy with an emphatic victory after which, Faf du Plessis’ return saw South Africa squaring the four-match series with a scintillating win. After two games of the four-match series, both the teams are evenly poised with a win apiece and will look to come out hard in the next encounter at The Oval. After losing the Nottingham Test, the onus of making a comeback is on England and South Africa, on the other hand, are brimming with confidence. They outplayed the hosts in all the three departments at Nottingham to gain momentum; they will be the team to beat henceforth.
The 340-run defeat at Nottingham has ruptured the morale created at Lords and restored the momentum with South Africa. England have a huge mental barrier to overcome and they need to leave the Nottingham defeat behind.
England have been a force to reckon in shorter formats and have gradually developed into a dominating unit. However, the same confidence has often gone for a toss when it came to longest format of the game in the recent times. They did well in the first Test but still had few weaknesses to be addressed, which was exposed at Trent Bridge. They are yet to find an impactful opener to accompany Alastair Cook at the top.
Although Keaton Jennings looks promising but his only innings of substance in the series so far, was a tenacious 33 in the second innings at Lords. He will certainly need more numbers to his name in the upcoming game and is likely that England will give him a go. Gary Ballance at No.3 got promising starts but failed to build a innings. Ballance gave an impression of an apt replacement for No. 3 with an average of 67.93 in his first 10 Tests, but has failed to live upto the expectations in the next 13, where he averages 19.79. Hashim Amla got crucial runs at No. 3, which was one of the key reasons behind South Africa’s success.
In the second Test, England’s batting last for 96.1 overs, both the innings combined, whereas South Africa batted for 96.2 overs in the first innings alone. England last played less than 100 overs in a home Test was against Australia back in 2009. Most of the wickets that England lost were due to their batsmen making mistakes. In Test cricket, it is important for a batsman to stay at the crease, get used to the conditions, and then score runs. Most of the English batsmen didn’t put a huge prize on their wicket and failed to bid enough time out in the middle. In saying so, the credit can’t be taken away from South African bowlers for being outstanding with the ball. But English batsmen created opportunities more often.
England are well capable of scripting a turnaround. They have done it in the past and need to do what South Africa did at Trent Bridge. South African skipper Du Plessis spoke about what his side did right at Trent Bridge by going back to the basic. “We did the basics a lot better and put England under pressure for long periods. We focused on getting back to things this side does really well,” Du Plessis told Sky Sports.
England’s bowling has not been a matter of concern, it’s only their batting that will need to step up if they are eyeing to make a comeback. Most of their batsmen played too many shots and went hard at the ball. They failed to put up any fight in the second innings at Nottingham. Their top-order will have to provide a solid start and get big runs on the board. More importantly, play out the new ball and do not expose the middle-order early. Keaton Jennings will probably get another chance to make an impact and England would certainly want him to fire at the top.
Gary Ballance has been ruled out of the third Test with a broken finger. Tom Westley is expected to make his England debut and been drafted into the 13-man squad. Westley has been prolific in the domestic circuit, scoring runs in heap in the last two seasons. He usually bats at No.3 for Essex and England in all probability assign him a similar role. Westley doesn’t have a lot of time and needs to grab this golden opportunity with both the hands and replicate his domestic form in the third Test as well. With an intent to strengthen their batting, England have also roped Dawid Malan into the squad.
Malan had an impactful Twenty20 International (T20I) debut against South Africa recently and England should opt to play an extra specialist batsman in the middle-order. It’s high time they realise, Moeen Ali is their specialist spinner and trust him with the responsibility. All-rounders – Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali bat at six and seven in the line-up. With a misfiring top-order, it would make all the sense to play an extra specialist batsman and strengthen the batting.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad have done a phenomenal job as a pair. And have fared decently in the series as well. But the third seamer, Mark Wood, has managed just a solitary wicket in the four innings so far. He has been declared fit for the third Test and this is probably his golden opportunity to make an impact as Toby Roland-Jones has been warming the bench and has been waiting for an opportunity. Ben Stokes has done reasonably well with the ball but need to pull his socks up with the bat. Moeen Ali, on the other hand, has picked 14 wickets in this series and done an outstanding job.
Dominate South African pace attack
South Africa have not relied on a pacer or two to bail them out but a collective effort has helped them achieve fruitful results. Their pacers have contributed equally and chipped wickets at regular intervals. To add to England’s woes, Keshav Maharaj has also played his role well and meant business with the ball. Chris Morris also produced some prized wickets in Nottingham and South Africa’s pace attack will certainly be strengthened with the return of Kagiso Rabada. England need to conquer the South African pacers and try not to lose early wickets. The stage is set for another action filled Test encounter and it will be interesting to see if England can rectify their flaws and bounce back at The Oval.