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England In South Africa – Test Preview

In Cricket on December 14, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Recent Test series’ between these two teams have been as tight as my Christmas budget with only one match separating the sides in each of the last seven tussles, and the 2009 clash between the 2nd and 5th ranked teams in the world should be no different. England have the momentum after their one day series victory, but South Africa will have home advantage.

Jonathan Trott has had a bright start to his England career

England haven’t played a Test since their morale-boosting Ashes win in August, but that series was hugely significant for them. They uncovered a real Test prospect in Jonathan Trott, who can fill a problem position for them at no.3 in the batting order, and they proved that they can produce against the best when the chips are down. With Ravi Bopara being given some much needed time to develop his game, Trott stepped in and played a pivotal role in England’s fifth Test win in the Ashes. Their batting order now has a formidable look to it.

The question marks will be over Alistair Cook’s form and Kevin Pietersen’s match fitness, and England fans will be hoping Cook can score some early runs to settle him into the series. He’s under pressure for his place after a very poor Ashes. There aren’t many options at the top of the order though, and unless the selectors want to move Trott in to open and push the fragile Ian Bell into the firing line, they may have to stick with him.

I’m backing Cook to come good though, as he is a prodigious talent who has shown he can score heavily in Tests. Losing concentration is his biggest flaw right now, so hopefully he’ll come to the crease relaxed and mentally prepared.

Opening batsman Alastair Cook will be under pressure to perform

Pietersen’s fitness is also a worry, but he’s such a competitor that playing against his countrymen will bring out the very best in him. He finally bagged himself some runs in England’s final warm-up game, and I have no doubts he will be a big factor in the series.

Paul Collingwood has more runs under his belt than Eddie Izzard recently, and he was the star of the show in the one day games. But he always seems to be just hanging on to his place with another Houdini hundred. If England are to storm South Africa, they need all their batsmen firing, and they can’t afford another slump from their former captain.

Another slight area of concern is behind the stumps, but I am of the opinion that Matt Prior is the right man for the job right now. He has always offered a threat with the bat, and his glovework is improving steadily. Steve Davies and James Foster will have to wait their turn.

Wicketkeeper Matt Prior is improving behind the stumps

As for the bowling, James Anderson is clearly the key man. He was very wild early in his career, often twisting and looking back behind him on the point of release, but he’s worked hard at his action and it’s showing. He struggled at times against Australia, but he has all the tools to be one of the world’s best. The South Africans will need to neutralise his fiery opening spells to get the upper hand, and his battle with Graeme Smith will be one of the keys to the series.

He is likely to be sharing the new ball with Graham Onions, the Durham seamer who burst on to the Test scene with a five-for against the Windies. He also impressed against the Aussies, taking 10 wickets in his three Tests, and looks like he could develop into a real weapon at Test level. This is a big chance for him to really establish himself in the team, as he faces some of the best in the world in their own back yard.

The change bowlers will be Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and one from Luke Wright, Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom, depending on which way the selectors go. Durham’s Mark Davies was also called up recently, but he is a long shot for selection.

Broad is an automatic choice after he finally blossomed in the Ashes, proving that he is more than just a promising batsman who can bowl. With his height and pace, the potential was there for all to see even when he was playing county cricket, and his Test experience is now standing to him as his confidence grows. He has a tendency to lose his length though, which could be fatal against batsmen of the class of Kallis, Duminy and deVilliers.

South African captain Graeme Smith may need to curb his aggression against England's openers

Despite the tracks in South Africa looking flatter than Kate Hudson, Graeme Swann will probably be an automatic pick. He adds depth to the batting order and a vital element of control and variety to the attack. Not to mention the odd miracle ball that seems to come out of nowhere and surprise good batsmen.

With Andrew Flintoff missing, the side lacks that bit of bite and aggression which the drunken wonder had in spades. The selectors are now faced with the quandary of whether to go with the erratic but explosive Luke Wright, the fading but wily Ryan Sidebottom, or the unproven but promising Tim Bresnan.

Personally, I’d go with Bresnan.

Sidebottom is a viable option, and his experience could be vital in a series like this. He can also still extract any swing that’s on offer, and could cause some serious problems. But he hasn’t been the same in recent times, with injuries and age taking their toll.

Luke Wright offers far more with the bat than the ball, and I think England’s order is deep enough. They should be looking to make sure they can take 20 wickets rather than worrying about padding the runs column, and Wright has shown that he’s far from reliable at this stage in his career.

At 24, Bresnan is one for the future. He showed a glimpse of his promise against the West Indies last Spring, and he is no mug with the bat either. He could well be given the nod on Wednesday, and looks to have the right temperament to succeed if given the chance.

Tim Bresnan looks to have a promising future with bat and ball

Whatever the make-up of their team, the English will need to be on top form in South Africa. With a batting line up that includes the firepower of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, AB deVilliers and JP Duminy, they will be giving up some big runs no matter how well they bowl.

The batsmen will also need to be mentally armoured to face down the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel with the home crowd baying for blood. The home side will be on a mission to reclaim top spot in the Test rankings after relinquishing that honour to the Indians just a few days ago.

They do have a good chance though, as there are some doubts over the South African side. Graeme Smith’s opening partner is not set, as Hashim Amla and Ashwell Prince are both in with a shout of selection. Jacques Kallis’ recent injury woes could prevent him from bowling in the series, and Makhaya Ntini seems to have lost his snap.

Whatever happens though, you can guarantee it will be entertaining. I’m looking forward to sitting back and enjoying some top class Test action in a series that will tell us a lot about where these two teams stand.

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