Like all of you, I’m looking forward to the Boxing Day Test in Durban, and hopefully it’ll be the start of a great series between South Africa and England.
South Africa is one of the nicest places to play cricket in the world, I loved playing there.
There are magnificent grounds, everything is very ‘normal’ for westerners and it almost feels like a home away from home. There are always decent crowds and it’s a great place for the travelling supporters. It’s just a really cool place to play.
For the hosts, the big news going into the series has been the return to fitness of Dale Steyn.
He’s come through a fitness test on the groin injury which forced him to miss three Tests in the 3-0 series defeat in India, and he looks certain to play. That, obviously, is massive for South Africa.
Steyn is undoubtedly the No. 1 fast bowler in the world, and his record speaks for itself. He makes such good use of the fast pitches over there, and with his speed and the late away swing he can produce, it really is a case of – if he gets it right, he gets you out.
England have got to find a way to control him, and to counteract his quality if they are going to stand any chance, but that is going to be easier said than done.
Dale Steyn is 3.75 to be South Africa’s top bowler in the first innings
Amla & AB
Batting-wise, South Africa are going to be relying on the performances of their two main men Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
Having said that, Amla hasn’t quite been in the best of form of late, and he’s not been the player that we saw score all those runs in England in the summer of 2012, including an amazing 311 not out at The Oval.
Whilst he might not have been at the races, De Villiers is quite obviously one of the very best batsmen in world cricket, and those two are going to be vital to South Africa over the series. They carry such a big weight as the rest of the batting order is arguably not as strong as in recent times, with the big miss being Jacques Kallis. He used to be the bedrock of the side, and they are not as good without him.
AB de Villiers is 3.75 to be the top runscorer in South Africa’s first innings
England’s Opening Options
For England, much of the attention has been on who’ll partner Alastair Cook at the top of the order, with Nick Compton recalled and Alex Hales deservedly getting his chance in the Test squad.
It’s nice to see Compton back. He’s a nice lad and he was definitely one of the best available options to the selectors. He’s got experience of Test cricket and hopefully he’ll focus on the positives from his previous spell in the team and not the negatives. I think he’ll be stronger for it.
Having said that, I’d pick Hales as I think he’s earned his spot. He’s deserved a fair crack at the position and I think he’ll do well.
The Big Two
There’s little doubt that Alastair Cook and Joe Root are still England’s two main men though, something evidenced by their centuries in the warm-up match against South Africa A.
Cook has become a legendary figure in English cricket in recent years, and everyone knows that when he scores runs England tend to win.
As for Root, he’s the No. 1 Test batsman in the world at the moment – above even De Villiers who I mentioned earlier – and he is the heartbeat of the batting order. They are going to be massively important over there.
Joe Root is 3.25 to be England’s top batsman in the series, Alastair Cook is 3.50
England Have A Chance
I see no reason why England can’t get off to a good start in Durban.
We won there on the last tour, and if we can bat first, bat deep and get a massive score then we’ll have a great chance. I think Cook has won two tosses in a row so he’s finally on good form on that front!
I don’t think we can read too much into South Africa’s loss in India – where the manufactured pitches produced a lot of spin (never a bad thing!) – but if Steyn isn’t quite right and their batting order struggles without Kallis then England could capitalise.
It’s going to be a very tight series, but we just need to avoid the nightmare sessions and we can make a good go of it.
England are 3.25 to win the first Test and 4.00 to win the series