It was coming- a rebound from England, spearheaded by Ben Stokes was inevitable in the second Test after South Africa thumped them in the opening match in Centurion. It was the sort of performance Stokes brought out of him in the second and third Test of Ashes 2019 after Australia’s resounding win in the first.
It was their first overseas Test victory since February 2019 and helped them surge to the third position in the ICC World Test Championship. And very similar to the one which came at the Gros Islet against West Indies last year, arriving on the backdrop of some old-fashioned batting performance and a five-wicket haul by an Englishman in the first innings.
The positives overflowed out of England’s victory in Cape Town. Dom Sibley’s evolution as a bonafide opening batsman in Tests took shape as he stood his ground for almost two days to remain unbeaten on 133 in the second innings. Amid his 311-ball vigil, makeshift opener Zak Crawley, Joe Root, and Joe Denly all made telling contribution to lay a foundation for an onslaught by Ben Stokes, first with the bat and then the ball.
The spin-bowling pair of Dominic Bess and Joe Denly also maintained the discipline and kept their heads cool to pick wickets in crucial junctures across both innings. And Joe Root’s innovative field settings and impressive rotation of his bowlers also helped the cause. England have made a start towards reviving their fortunes in overseas Tests but need to take this to the next level to win this series and do it more consistently further.
But the illness and injuries haven’t spared the English camp. Skipper Joe Root is the latest who skipped the training session in Port Elizabeth on Sunday due to an upset stomach but was back for the training a day ago. The encouraging news comes in the form of Durham pacer Mark Wood giving himself an excellent chance to feature in the third Test instead of the injured and the ageless James Anderson. Wood, who last played a Test in February 2019, fared well in the net sessions and seems in contention ahead of Jofra Archer.
Meanwhile, South Africa, who rode primarily on their bowling attack to win the first Test, failed them in the second. But when South Africa put up an unsuccessful rearguard in their pursuit of 438 in the fourth innings, debutant Pieter Malan showed his capability. Malan’s valiant effort of 84 off 288 deliveries may keep an under-fire Aiden Markram out of the side for long.
The rest of the team also followed Malan’s footsteps to force a jailbreak, if not scripting an unlikely win. And it required a Stokes-special in the final hour of day five to dislodge their last three wickets while the hosts remained 189 runs adrift. The stubborn effort will indeed make visitors wary ahead of the final two Tests of South Africa’s doggedness when the chips are down.
But it is time that their batsmen step up to the task and not be highly reliant on their bowlers. Also, with the pitch at St. George’s Park speculated as a slow surface, spinners from either side may have a greater say as compared to the quick bowlers.
Their ace pace bowler James Anderson has been ruled out of the final two Tests due to a rib injury. Mark Wood remains the frontrunner to replace Anderson with Paul Collingwood stating the same. Left-arm spinner Jack Leach is also set to return home after failing to recover from his illness that has now transformed into sepsis. It means that Dominic Bess will likely retain his spot. A stomach bug struck Joe Root; however, he is likely to be available for the third Test.
Predicted XI: Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler(wk), Sam Curran, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood.
The hosts announced an unchanged squad for the remaining two Tests. The selectors didn’t make any changes to the team to give game time to the non-starting players in their ongoing domestic four-day competition. They are likely to go ahead with the same playing eleven and replacements would be drafted in later in case of any injuries.
Predicted XI: Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Zubayr Hamza, Faf Du Plessis(c), Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock(wk), Vernon Philander, Dwaine Pretorious, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje.
Focus will be on:
Faf Du Plessis (South Africa)
Faf Du Plessis form with the bat has been concerning. The skipper last scored a Test century in January 2019 and hasn’t crossed 30 in his last seven innings. The 35-year old has been part of several escape missions, few of which he has managed to break free his side from.
The second Test in Newlands was another such situation out of which South Africa could have salvaged a draw. Sadly, he threw it away by sweeping Dominic Bess to square leg, having batted for 57 balls. Another series loss, especially at home, would be a big blow for his captaincy.
Joe Denly (England)
In each of the four innings in South Africa, Joe Denly has helped in weathering the storm after early losses. While the 33-year old at number three does the job of seeing the shine off the new ball, he has been unable to convert the starts into big scores. In 12 Tests, Denly’s high score is of 94 and hasn’t been able to crack the code to reach three figures. Hence, the Kent batsman needs to make sure there is no lapse of concentration on the way to his first Test century.
Head to Head:
Total – 151
Won by South Africa – 34
Won by England – 62
Drawn Tests – 55
94 – Ben Stokes needs 94 runs to get to 4000 Test runs.
5 – England have won five out of nine Tests at St.George’s Park against South Africa. The home side has won just one with the remaining three resulting in a draw.
The Englishmen haven’t played a Test in this ground since 2004.
Among the current crop of bowlers, Kagiso Rabada has the best bowling strike-rate in Tests, which is of 40.2.
TV – Sony Six, Sony Six HD
Live Streaming – Sony LIV
Match timings – 1:30 pm (IST), 8:00 am (GMT)
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