Tag Archives: Andrew Strauss

Investment in Moeen shows way forward for top-order conundrum

The trust and persistence placed in Moeen Ali is how England should approach their top-order conundrum.

After a decade of success, English cricket demands instantaneous results, but this approach has cut off the side’s nose to spite their face.

Selection policy has become impatient and short sighted when it comes to the top order.

Alastair Cook has gone through 11 opening partners since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, now compounded by more gaps at numbers three and five.

Yet in the midst of chaos, Moeen Ali has emerged as a reliable and increasingly threatening allrounder.

But, it’s easy to reflect on his 25 wickets and over 252 runs against South Africa with rose tinted glasses.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing. Moeen Ali has batted in every position from one to nine, only scored one century in his first 20 Tests, and was averaging more than 50 in 2016.

England stuck with him, because they believed in him. They wanted Moeen because of the potential he offered. Perhaps the biggest seal of approval, was the bringing in Saqlain Mushtaq to assist him. Moeen has now said he wants him there permanently.

Ali has been an investment for England. His form has been changeable, but the concept is right.

The question, is why have England openers not been invested in? They have been tried and trashed. Quickly.

It ultimately lies in trust.

England have picked openers because of county form, with the hope they’d continue that. But they couldn’t, or at least not instantaneously.

But, It takes time to adapt. Keaton Jennings, like Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook scored a century on debut, and now he looks frail. But, no more frail than how Moeen himself looked in the first two years of his career – when he showed inconsistency.

They kept him and trusted him to recover. The investment was seen as worthwhile.

Jennings, and the hoard of other openers, haven’t been trusted to be able to adapt.

Within five or six Tests of his debut hundred, there are calls to drop Jennings and replace him with with yet another cab-off-the-rank from county cricket, with no-doubt, an impressive domestic record.

Why pick them in the first place if they aren’t going to be trusted?

England set a precedent in May 2013 when they dropped Nick Compton for the first time, and they’ve been doubling down ever since. They’ve been too afraid to change course.

Nick Compton had success opening for England. He scored two centuries in New Zealand, and had a good partnership with Alastair Cook. He was experienced, and in form. He needed to work on his game, but who doesn’t?

Dropping him set the ball rolling for England’s opening policy.

Openers are disposable, not investments.

Until a new Andrew Strauss comes along, domestic performers can be used once and thrown away.

This is a ruinous policy. England need an opener. They need one that will work in the long run. They may struggle at first, but Moeen Ali’s progress shows what can be done with hard work.


2nd Test Review

The second Test match between England and South Africa went down to the final session of the final day, which in modern Test cricket is not hugely common. It clearly began with a questionable team and toss selection from England but rapidly became a match heading towards all 3 result being possible. Most cricket fans and writers i read on Twitter and in the media were saying it would end up a dead rubber, as tt ended up, but come the last session with wickets tumbling i wasn’t so sure.

South Africa and England were able to match each other more or less with England picking up a lead of just 6 in the first innings. Alviro Petersen’s 182 and Kevin Pietersen’s exhillerating 149 set up the possibility of a hard fought finale. The pitch being flat yet giving a little bit of seam movement and with clouds a permenant fixture for most the Test meant there was hope for bowlers, reinforced by the fact England went with an all seam attack therefore someone having an inkling that pace could be the key. Rain however effected playing time, the game seemed to be heading towards a draw.

The game meandered along on the fifth day but the tide turned before lunch as Pietersen got a wicket; that of South Africa’s skipper who fell on 123  with fifty two to his name. As a result of a few minor injuries, the slightly disrupted order proved to be something that limited fluency and acceleration.The Proteas never got going really. They fell from 123-1 to 182-3 after Kevin Pietersen followed up a thrilling first innings 149 with the bat, with 3 wickets with the ball.

Graeme Swann must have been bashing his head on the table watching the ball rip around Rudolph, Smith and Amla’s bats, wondering why he wasn’t playing. By the 51’st over Pietersen had bowled his way to 3-41 off eight overs. A fine display from a part time bowler.

Stuart Broad ripped the heart out of South Africa as he removed De Villiers LBW followed by Duminy the very next ball. Shortly after Kallis was bounced out with a brutal short ball and Phillander also LBW. This single spell left South Africa reeling, from 182-3  in the 51st over to 230-7 in the 61st over. He ended the innings getting Morkel caught which gifted him figures of 16.4 overs  2 Maidens 5- 69. A return to form indeed.

Broad’s 5-69 tore through South Africa and Gave England a chance

Smith pulled the plug and set England 253 runs to win in 39 possible overs. This target of 253 in 39 may seem do-able in a CB40 game, but with Test matches these so called ‘dead rubbers’, are so, because unlike limited overs cricket fielding restrictions do not exist and therefore there are more boundary riders. South Africa have a high quality pace attack which is difficult to hit anyway so If England went all out guns blazing, like South Africa tried near the end of their innings i think the only possible result would be lots of wickets.  With the exception of Pietersen the England players are aggressive by Test match standard but not much else, so i doubt they could have attacked for as long.

Strauss is a defensive captain arguably  but  I was pleasantly surprised despite being partially really unsure about how his next move would pay off.  Pietersen was promoted to open in a Test innings , which is not an everyday occurrence. However this was a sign England were going to ‘have a go’ at chasing over 6 an over even if only for a small period.

Initially KP  was double the rate smashing 12 off a wayward Morkel over. Once KP selflessly gave it away in the interests of the team, It became a bit of an self fulfilling prophecy for most England fans that this game would be a draw. The faint hopes Pietersen laid were short lived. England would not be going to hard at this total with Alistair Cook, Strauss, Trott and a debutant in the top 6. For the second match in a row Cook hit a six ( i hope this is not a sign of the apocalypse) in the process of hitting a lovely 46 off 70. Bell and Trott were both solid and Prior incredibly unlucky to be run out.

It was a good debut for James Taylor, who helped to maintain a solid partnership with Pietersen in a difficult period. He occupied the crease for nearly two hours and spent invaluable time with KP.

2nd Test 2nd Day 2nd Class England

A number of bold and arguably wreckless decisions have put England in a weak position at the end of the first innings.The toss being won by Andrew Strauss and opting to bowl was, i thought slightly risky yet not a disaster. England had had just come off the back of 3 days in the field facing 600 odd for 2 declared. Clearly the England bowlers do not have a bucket of wickets to their name in this series.

South Africa after being inserted into bat were 419 all out with a gritty and anchor-like century from Petersen. He went in to the innings a little bit as an underdog that was unknown and certainly not the focus of the South African batting lineup. He was still batting by tea on day two.

The toss

This decision was even more bemusing after hearing the decision to leave out the best spinner in the world. Graeme Swann’s exclusion reinforced my frustration at the initial decision to bowl first. I felt like it was Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston 2005 all over again after McGrath not fit for play. It just didn’t make sense to chose to bowl when you have just been hammered and you are leaving out the best spinner.

Economy wise Anderson went at 1.83  an over and Broad went at 2.74  and therefore kept a lid on the runs to an extent. Bresnan went at 3.62 an over and Finn went at 3.68 an over. The overall innings run rate was exactly 3 an over therefore although Strauss had 2 bowlers he could use economically they cannot bowl all day. Two would slightly let him down. Sometimes which is often OK if you are taking wickets

Jimmy Anderson was as ever, reliable and disciplined. He bowled 33.2 overs including 10 maidens going for 61 runs and taking 2wickets but going at a very economical and steady 1.83 economy rate. Below is the iconic image for Anderson though. Alistair Cook of course, dropping Alviro Peterson on just 29 and he went on to make 182.

I certainly got the impression England had good plans for Kallis, Amla, De Villiers and Smith and rather hoped that Petersen, Rudolph and Duminy would just be got out somehow. They were seen as the side dish as opposed to the main meal. The drop cost over over 150 runs

Broad bowled 35 overs and as a return had 3-96. Once again slow, maintaining regular pace of very low 80’s and high seventies. I felt Broad bowled far too short bearing in mind he was consistently hanging around low 80’s. Short balls are supposed to be used as surprise balls not stock balls. Petersen’s signature shot against Broad was his Pull stroke which one felt he had an absolute age to play. He exploited the lack of conviction of the bowlers bowling to him and made them pay.

One of frequently seen pull shots by Petersen enabled by predictable and slow short pitched bowling

Finn bowled aggressively i thought. He had an unfortunate problem in the sense he keeps running ‘through’ the stumps. The umpire at one point decided after a chat with Graeme Smith to start calling his regular deliveries where he accidentally hit the stumps as dead balls. ut of all the bowlers on show, he was the only one to go for over a hundred. he bowled 32 overs for 118, taking two wickets (one being the nightwatchman Steyn). Broad went for 96, Anderson a miserly 61 and Bresnan 98. I was disappointing with finn.

England’s 3rd bowler was Bresnan who reeled off 27 overs and went for 98 runs taking the important wicket of Smith and affecting the run out of the bearded batsmen that tormented England at the Oval, Amla. Bresnan i just feel is a bit of a nothing bowler. he is a decent All rounder cricketer but not outstanding at anything. He occasionally reverse swings the ball.. has a decent bouncer, but does not bowl excessively fast, dosn’t swing or seam it. He just has a nack of taking useful wickets.

Too often pressure was built up and then at the crucial time the wrong bowler was brought on and it was released. Really not impressed with Strauss’s captaincy in these two tests. Unimaginative, uninspiring and toothless. He is not making anything happening and is relying on mistakes.

Nearing the start of the innings, Strauss’s fields were not attacking enough having a man out on the boundary in addition to only having 2 slips. He failed to keep lower order or tail-end batsmen on strike nearing the end of the innings. Most bemuzingly, he didn’t give Anderson the second new ball. I hope Strauss and cook continue their fluent partnership on Saturday morning though.

To conclude i think it’s fair to say that the England bowlers were slightly in disciplined but not as much as they were at the oval. The gaping hole left by Swann was obvious as the run rate was controlled by South Africa not England’s bowlers. They needed to have some more pressure held up by economic bowling. This can really only be done by better lines and lengths

Second Test preview – Make or break time

England lost the first test match at the oval and they are now 1-0 down with 2 to play. All eyes move to Headingley in Yorkshire. They were comprehensively beaten at the Oval, having pathetically managed one Hundred and only 2 Wickets in the entire game compared to South Africa who took 20 wickets and patiently compiled over 600 runs.

The prospects for the next test match are mixed for England but relatively straightforward for the Proteas. England go into the game knowing they must not lose it or else in a 3 match series they cannot come back. Ultimately this means they will be no longer the best side in the world. So; ‘Where do England go from here?’ and ‘Do South Africa need to do anything different.?’

Clearly South Africa’s immovable batsmen gave them an assailable lead and their bowlers were the spearhead. It is arguably more the fault of English batsmen for not getting first innings runs than English bowlers for not taking wickets on a deck flatter than a nuns chest. The stats don’t lie. South Africa hit over 600 and lost only two wickets, but England couldn’t get to 400 and lost 20. The disparity of first innings runs was the difference between the sides.

Run fest at the Oval for the Proteas

Speaking from past experience when a similar situation has arisen; when England have lost a game in a series the answer is that England need a more aggression and conviction. This is especially the case in the opening partnership in my opinion. If we turn out heads back to the Ashes ’05 second test at Edgbaston with Strauss, Trescothick and Vaughan and 09 at Lords with Cook and Strauss, both times coming out and silencing with the bat. Both times they went at over 4 runs per over they ran the bowlers ragged and put a cap on the pressure with boundaries. Though the South African attack are the best in the world arguably and therefore it is unlikely England are going to be able to hit 4 runs an over in the 1st innings of a test match. However we know Morkel may lose his lines and lengths if he is hit around as shown by Trego in the tour game, and Tahir is also still unproven. It is not impossible to hit the South Africans.

England need some spark. Whether its a captains innings or a Pietersen innings, they need something to really take the game away with the bat. They are not getting enough runs and not getting enough momentum. England have gone past 400 twice in 9 tests in 2012 and in that time England lost to Pakistan in 3-0 whitewash, lost a game in Sri Lanka and have lost to South Africa. It couldn’t be clearer. They are not getting enough runs and the bowlers have not got enough leeway.

There is one change to the batting partially forced as Bopara is not going to be playing due to ‘personal reasons’. Bopara has always been plagued by hype and expectation that inevitably turns to disappointment and honestly I am not sure whether he would have played anyway. But the long and the short of the situation is that young James Taylor of Nottinghamshire and skipper of the England Lions looks like he will get a debut test cap. He is a fine player and brilliant prospect. I get the feeling he is being picked more because they see him as the future rather than the present. Then again he is the hier to the poisoned challis i.e. the number 6 position for many fans and selectors alike.

The other day, Taylor scored his first century of the season with a timely and magical 163*. Coincidence that on this same day he received his call up for England, not a bad day.

It’s clear that Taylor’s recent form is poor as he has only scored 1 ton and 1 fifty  in 2012 for Notts in FC cricket. He has a good record though. In 2011 he scored 1602 runs averaging 55.24 hitting 3 tons and 10 fifties .This was on the back of 2010 in which he scored 1134 runs averaging 42.00 with 3 tons and 4 fifties. He was impressive for the Lions and has been successful in CB40 and T20 Cricket smashing 115 of 77 balls this year. Small in stature with a genuine raw ability and good record he is an exciting prospect at 22 years old much like Bopara was a few years ago. Taylor needs to fill a gap that has never really been solved since the likes of Flintoff and Collingwood stopped working well at 6. Being thrust into the England side it may be interesting to see if he can he perform against the touring South Africans though, and if he can fit into the side well.

Taylor scores a brilliant captain’s hundred for the England Lions during day two of the tour match between England Lions and West Indies

South Africa should only have one selection dilemna really as there is no reason at all to change a winning side. The few errors made by AB De Villiers behind the stumps could mean a test return for Tsolekile. However, i genuinely think that the balance and depth of this South African side is much better with this set up even if just until a permanent keeper is found.

The bowling was benign and toothless. The fact is that South Africa didn’t even need De Villiers who is ranked 3 in the world, nor did they need Rudolph or Duminy. Their bowlers rested for 3 days and they were utterly clinical once refreshed even on a flat deck. England can’t even get to the supposedly weaker or less cemented in the side batsmen so South Afirca will fancy their chances of getting big scores. England clearly need a change with the ball to make sure they have the capacity to take 20 wickets.

Here are a few key areas they need to look at. 

Firstly a lack of pace – Anderson, Bresnan and especially Broad were slow. Bowling high seventies and low eighties consistently. It was completely un threatening for class batsmen like Kallis and Amla. My first solution is simply try to bowl quicker (which England definitely can).. Solution 2 (my preferred one) is pick Steven Finn. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all about pace. Plenty of bowlers do well regardless of pace, but they do so because they do something with the ball, which bring me on to my 3rd Solution; bowl better and with more discipline so you don’t need to bowl as fast (and preferably also pick Finn for some pace too..)

The severe indiscipline in both length and line was evident. Too much short and wide bowling outside off stump to Amla and Kallis. Amla is a wristy back foot cutter and driver. Kallis a nervous starter.  Once in nick both able to also supremely drive of both feet and whip away the ball more straight and leg side. They needed to bowl straighter and fuller early on.  Also wrong lines to Smith; worried about bowling too straight so they overcompensated by bowling too wide. It felt a little bit like England had no plan at all. Severely down on pace, wrong lines and lengths, they looked a little bit like my Sunday side with bat and ball.  (And that’s no complement )

Anderson had no luck with the swinging ball

A bloke called Graeme was also a minor issue. Nope, not Graeme Smith… Well i suppose yes actually Smith was too, bearing in mind he scored a century.. but Swann is who i am really referring to. Where was he? I don’t think he has bowled that badly in the last year taking 35 wickets but he has not been as dangerous as his initial burst of international cricket. Smith played him expertly coming down the wicket to him and working his good length balls to the leg side but advancing and turning them into fuller balls.  If Swann is not taking wickets that is possibly ok providing he is economical, but if he is going for runs and not holding up an end then it only reinforces the fact that he is not the bowler he was a year and a bit ago. With the exception of Sri Lanka, he has not been in the best form of his life recently and needs to rediscover his Mojo or England are short.

England need some spite and zip with the bowlers. This year Broad Anderson and Swann have all had fantastic years, but nothing compared to Steyn Morkel and Phillander. They need to step up a gear and take them on. Set some new standards and really put England into a stronger position. Steyn Morkel and Phillander are bowling quicker, more accurately and have better bouncers but England’s attack got them to the top so they need to show they can keep them there.

In my view It is a straight swap between Bresnan i can only assume, and that of either Steven Finn or Graham Onions. Finn offers pace and bounce, Onions offers experience, line and length. The change in the bowling is likely to be Bresnan but this in my view is purely because you cannot really drop Broad after his phenomenal year. Broad was not test match standard in the Oval test match, bowling medium pace and Un-threatening lines and lengths, but he shouldn’t be dropped on that as the T20 skipper and top 15 ranked bowler, he is quality and has proven that so lets not have a knee jerk reaction. Bresnan unfortunately has been down on pace for a period of time now. After his elbow injury he has been changed into an 82-5 MPH bowler instead of a 84-7 or 88 MPH bowler. He occasionally reverses it but Finn or Onions offer a lot more. The fact Bresnan and Broad can bat a little bit are irrelevant in this choice as far as i’m concerned. Lets make sure we can take 20 wickets and not give away 3 or 4 cheap ones..

England need some record breakers. Big partnerships. They have done it before. Big wickets which they have also done before. England Did not lose to SA the last time they toured here or we toured there so it is not un doable. They need to take a lead out of South Africa’s book. Need More patience and conviction with the bat, Better solid partnerships and slightly faster and more accurate bowling. They are still 1 in the world until they lose and they can still salvage this series but if they lose the second test it is all but over.

Eng v SA – 1st test – match review

Suntanned and satisfied after a beautiful summers day at the Oval on day five, as a cricket fan i am delighted with what i have seen. Unfortunately along with the other one hundred thousand that went to the Oval over the course of the five days, i am bitterly disappointed with England’s loss. From a Day one end with Cook rollicking along past his 20th century, it looked as if the Proteas had not turned up. It is clear however that the only players that didn’t turn up were England’s.

The fact is that as Michael Vaughan correctly asserts ‘England have been hammered and it is not often they get hammered at gome.’ England were a frail and disjointed mess. The first day was marred by rain delays and lackluster bowling from all the South African quicks which meant it was also sprinkled with class of Cook and endurance of Trott. Unfortunately  once Cook had compiled his fantastic ton, over the course of day two,  England capitulated. They  made 118 runs and lost 7 wickets. After Cook had come and gone, the score shockingly was transformed from a respectable and steady base position of 251-3 to 313-7 which is essentially England throwing away their entire middle order.  They had a severe batting collapse and the torment began.

Cook’s magnificent 115 was painstakingly slowly compiled but hard fought. Essentially in vain

I’ve heard a lot of ‘reasons’ .. or some would say excuses why this collapse has happened. The pitch,  The conditions, the quality of the bowlers all factors. But i cannot but think that perhaps these wickets were due to indiscipline as well as the good bowling. Cook chopped on to his stumps instead of just defending or driving straight. Trott played a drive ball on the up and got caught behind. Pietersen kept pulling and was brilliantly set up by Kallis caught down the leg side. Bopara completely gave it away trying to turn into a helicopter i can only presume and Bell of course was bowled by Kallis. There was a lot of laziness and indecision and not enough patience to get in, especially with Pietersen.

The fact is that first innings runs are absolutely crucial. England got 385 of 125.5 overs. This is a poor run rate. Even though South Africa on the first day didn’t take many wickets, they had control. it was not a run fest. Come day two, there was not a huge base and the collapse occurred meaning a far below par score. Looking at England’s score relative to South Africa it is clear just how out of depth England are, not just in terms of not scoring enough but in relation to getting bowled out twice.

I think despite Cook’s ton, the most successful innings was Prior as he was able to score some much needed runs, which is of course the best way of making the bowler change their plans and put them off. Regardless, England’s failure with the bat meant they were all out by the start middle of day two, with South Africa batting solidly for 3 days more or less.

The careful, deliberate and highly skillful compiling of an agonizing 637 for two off 189 horribly exposed the fact that England were missing a cutting edge, a Partnership breaker and a bowler to hold pressure. Baring in mind Petersen fell for zero, there were two main partnerships Smith and Amla from 1-1 to 260-2 and Amla and Kallis from 260-2 to 637-2 dec. It couldn’t possibly be clearer that the difference between the two sides 1st innings is that the South African batsmen were determined to get in and compile a huge score through partnerships whereas England were a bit of a freeforall.

Smith scoring a 100 in his hundredth test was a typically gritty and dogged innings from the Saffers captain. He is not elegant or fluent but perhaps that is irrelevant when you average 50 and can claim to have never lost a game in which you have scored a ton.

Amla, Smith and Kallis all valued their wicket in a Steve Waugh type ‘over my dead body’ fashion. ‘ It was relentless for England’s shoddy and ineffective bowlers, especially the danger men, Anderson and Swann. There was not only no respite from the batsmen, but there was no desperation or urgency to stop the runs from the bowlers. The bowling was perpetually too wide outside off stump to make Smith play and too short to Amla at an un threatening pace. Both pounced on anything too straight, but the fact is that England should have been bowling a 4th stump line instead of a wide outside off stump line or shorter length.

Amla’s 311* was possibly one of the most elegant innings i have ever watched. I have seen plenty of Vaughan, Sangakarra, Tendulkar and Bell tons on the Telly etc.. but this was right up there. Extremely pleasing on the eye, and exactly what his team wanted and needed. Valuing his wicket like gold.

In 12 games in England  Kallis had an average of 29 with 1 ton and 3 fifties. He now has 2 tons and an average of 38 in England. A far cry from his career average of a wapping 57 but it is closer for sure. He is truly a sensational batsmen, and a hugely valuable one with bat, ball and in the field, not to mention helping Smith now Boucher is not in his ear. Lets not forget that few 36 year old batsmen are able to bounce out Kevin Pietersen.

I swear he didn’t have a beard when he started the innings !?

I am a Stuart Broad fan as in last 12 months he has been phenomenal due to being able to adapt through slightly lowering his pace and extracting from conditions. He was totally impotent and not sticking to his lines well enough. I don’t think he was test quality in the Oval test. Was very poor and i think should be in contention for replacement should England so wish to bring in Finn or Onions. Anderson was unlucky in the sense he bowled good lines and lengths for a lot of the time, but arguably did not have as much discipline when bowling with the new red cherry.

I wasn’t really sure what to think of Bresnan. In the one sense he took a wicket, but in the other sense, he was under bowled i think. Not trusted with the ball at crucial times. Maybe i’m in a minority, but i am still unconvinced of his supposed golden touch with the  team. He is a steady bowler but not an outstanding bowler in the way Anderson or Steyn is. As far as i’m concerned, Steven Finn would offer more pace, bounce and height. Bresnan can of course bat and field well, so there is a little dilemna still pending.

I went to day 5 to see England’s second innings. I tried a rain dance to encourage some clouds over Kennington. It clearly didn’t work as my arms got browner and browner in the mid July 28c heat

My view from my seat on day 5 – My rain dance did not work !

England’s second innings was utterly dreadful. Cook and Trott got a complete Jaffas, but apart from that i would say wickets were handed away.  Pietersen the obvious culprit being bowled by Morkel. Bell played well on the 5th day but it was arguably in a hopeless task with a South African win very likely. 

Strauss at the post match interview said something on the lines of ‘ It was a flat deck and not good for the bowlers.’ Thats undoubtedly true. BUT one has to ask does this say something about the England batsmen? Surely if it was a bad pitch for bowling the South Africans would have not been able to take twenty English wickets? It seems a bit of a lame excuse by Strauss.

Steyn gets 5 – A true master

Dale Steyn in the fourth innings bowled some of the best fast bowling i have seen in England for a very long time. His lines and lengths were exemplary. He got just enough movement to trouble the batsmen. The obvious difference between the quality of Steyn in this test and the Mediocracy of England in my opinion was pace and zip.

Maybe statistically most bowlers were around 81 or 82 consistently, Steyn always had that energy and bounce and the threat of a short ball or a swinging ball. he is the compete modern Fast Bowler and his number one ranking is fully deserved.

The most anticipated series – England Vs South Africa preview

We have been waiting for an England versus South Africa series with such anticipation, that one could be mistaken that it is an Ashes series. Six out of the worlds top 14 bowlers and 8 out of the worlds top 17 batsmen are on show in a mouthwatering heavyweight spectacle.

Notably the major head to head will be with the ball.  In English conditions with Steyn Phillander and Morkel against Anderson Broad and either most likely Finn or Bresnan with the newer ball and a world class spinner in Swann against Tahir who has still to prove his International credibility . Of course the batsmen will be the ones facing this barrage of world class bowlers. Pietersen against the incomparable Jacques Kallis for me will be the biggest standoff. It will also be interesting to see how the captains fair with Strauss back in nick and Smith with very fond early memories of England.

People are labeling South Africa as the better side with faster bowlers, higher ranked batsmen and better fielders. They apparently have the hunger to win which could be the edge.  I hugely respect the South Africans obvious class and professionalism and am looking forward to this contest but i simply don’t agree that in a three match series England at home are the underdogs at all.

An incredibly unfortunate incident  forced retirement of Mark Boucher. His 147 test match career over 15 year span made him the experienced wicket keeper and a gritty number seven. He is irreplaceable and has left a gaping hole in the South African side. He was a thorn in England’s side last time scoring a huge amount of runs including a 95. Most importantly however, South Africa have been majorly disrupted by this change because their batting lineup is now unsettled and filled with bith inconsistency and a lack of stability.

Boucher’s horrific and cruel moment

Many assumed before the series the two batting and bowling lineups would lock horns. After the retirement of Boucher, South Africa’s lineup doesn’t look as strong especially with Kallis’s abysmal record and England’s recent triumph against Australia both with bat and ball in the ODI series. Australia only managed to take 13 wickets in 4 games. England’s batmsne are in good form and there is a string of top quality bowlers to reel off if there are any injuries. Tremlett and Dernbach don’t even make the squad.

South Africa are having to give AB De Villiers the gloves and shift the order around slightly. Thami Tsolekile might fill in after the first test which means a batsmen will have to drop out.  It’s also fair to say he is a keeper not a keeper batsmen. I reckon AB may just carry on with the gloves. Currently in the first test it’s likely all of the three batsmen; Duminy Petersen  and Rudolph could play due to De Villiers now taking the gloves. This is very different to England’s situation with a solid top 5 and newbie Bopara in at 6. England do bat right down to 10 though so if South Africa really are as good as people think they are about to meet their match.

South Africa have a big problem in the sense that One top of the batsmen of all time,  Jacques Kallis has a dreadful record in England: In England, between 1998-2008 Kallis has played 12 games and had  20 innings. Despite his career average being just below 60 his average in England is 29.30. He has only scored one hundred and 3 fifties in his entire time in England  in which he has only accumulated 586 runs. Kallis’s form is so shocking in England that his bowling average of 27.51 (35 wickets) is only marginally different to his batting average which in the high twenties is very unusual baring in mind his career batting average is so brilliant. Kallis is obviously a world class batsmen and stats don’t lie. He now has over fourty test tons and will be an invaluable member of the side and i think most fans want this abysmal record to turn around so we can all watch some world class batting

Kallis has only ever scored 1 ton and 3 fifties in 20 matches in England. Any chance of a reversal of fortunes

England’s side more or less picks itself with only two minor selection issues, that of number 6 and number 8. One of these is now sorted as it’s now clear Ravi Bopara will play after having an unfortunate injury against the West Indies that opened the door for Johnny Bairstow, now back, and in serious nick he has a chance to prove himself.

The dynamic mix of attack and defense, orthodoxy and innovation that exists between both teams will be compelling to watch. The Settled settled and in form opening partnership of the assured Andrew Strauss and confident Alistair Cook is a far cry from South Africa who have an  under cooked and unpredictable opening pair who are fallible. England not only have most areas covered in the top seven but the depth of the batting is second to none. Bresnan Averages 40 with the bat at number 8 (3 fifties in 14 games), broad averages 27 with 9 fifties and a test 150 in 47 games. Even Graeme Swann averages 21 at number 10.

South Africa on paper also have a very good batting lineup with Smith Kallis Amla and De Villiers but one feels there is a little frailty after the big guns are out. Petersen is not assured of his place in the side, especially knowing fullwell that once AB changes back to being a specialist batsmen someone will get dropped.  Duminy has never played in English conditions,  Pietersen although scoring a ton in his last test also, has not been in the best of form in English conditions for Essex and Rudolph.down at probably 6 or 7 or opening , has  been a little bit of a disaster in test matches upon return scoring just 1 ton and 2 fifties in 12 innings. His record previous to this was equally lackluster. There is no long wrong of form to speak of despite scoring runs in his last few games

The Bowl off between Steyn Morkel and Phillander and the England Bowlers is one of the most anticipated and long standing rivalries that we have been waiting to see unfold. Phillander has been brilliant coming into the side and being one the quickest to 50 wickets. He isn’t the same pace as Steyn and Morkel but has an impeccable line and length and regularly extracts something from the pitch or conditions. He has been very good also for Somerset taking 23 wickets in 5 games during a short stint. he knows England well.

England’s only minor issue is “who they pick as the third seamer ”  is a good one to have. Bresnan , Finn or Onions. Each offer something a little different. Each have had some success in test cricket before. It isn’t as if England have a choice between Darren Pattinson, Amjad Kahn and another horses for courses of bowler of yesteryear. These are high class bowlers that are keeping the likes of Chris Tremlett out the Squad let alone the side.

The big bowl off

England have had a little drama with Pietersen with his retirement but he is in very good form having smashed a double century for Surrey and being one of the players that ‘rises to the occasion’ he could be a vital player for England. Of course Steyn has already chirped away at KP and the series is hotting uo

This series is going to be a heavily dominated by the bowlers one thinks. Whereas there are a few kinks with both batting lineups, the bowling units on both sides are seriously strong and there is so much depth. Even the second string of bowlers for both sides are world class. England can call upon the likes of Tremlett, Onions, Dernbach and have the likes of Meaker waiting in the wings. South Africa although without Merchant De Lange have Tsotsebe abd  Albie Morkel to come in.

As long as the weather holds up it will be a cracking 3 game series.