South Africa vs England 2nd Test, Cape Town: Dominant England look to oust the battered hosts
The last two New Year Tests at the Newlands, Cape Town marked the ascendancy of the home side – a climb that eventually led them to the top of the tree. Ironically, that numero uno position is the only thing that the Proteas can seek inspiration from as they enter 2016 still ranked No.1 in the World in Tests.
The ascendancy has now been replaced by downfall, the kind of which even South Africa wouldn’t have foreseen, let alone the rest of the world. Trailing 0-1 in the Basil D’Olveira Trophy, following their 241-run defeat in Durban, the team has batsmen – sans Dean Elgar and the holy AB de Villiers – in terrible form, and bowlers full of bite but lacking penetration further weakened by the absence of their premier spearhead Dale Steyn.
Teams as they stand
That their management has gained significant learnings from the Durban Test is evident through Quinton de Kock’s inclusion as a wicket-keeper, who is likely to take the gloves from de Villiers, probably at the expense of either Temba Bavuma or JP Duminy.
“We still have to make a call on whose position he will end up taking,” Hashim Amla, the skipper said. “He is giving us the option of taking a load off AB. He will obviously stay at 4. It's not 100% confirmed as yet.”
“Quinny has been in very good form with the bat. He got a hundred in the first-class game he played. If he gets a go, then, at least, there's somebody who has been playing well and will ease the keeping duties for us.”
Another important breakthrough for the beleaguered home side would be, quite ironically again, the replacement for Steyn. Kagiso Rabada, the tear-away 20-year-old is the most likely substitution for South Africa’s highest Test wicket-taker, and given his exploits in the subcontinent after a bombarding debut against Bangladesh, the quick wickets here must definitely be his cup of tea.
That, however, doesn’t add one bit to the mitigation process that they have initiated for their batsmen by roping in Graeme Smith as a batting consultant for the series. Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis didn’t look like recovering from their subcontinental hangover from last year while Stiaan Van Zyl blew hot and cold over short bursts without any signs of consistency.
"To get Graeme on board now, Graeme being the quality cricketer that he is, fits the role perfectly. Graeme has got a good know-how about Test cricket and that's what Test cricket is about. It's about know-how, having a feel for the game and we've got a lot of youngsters that can draw on that," said Amla.
Kyle Abbott, who played second fiddle to Morne Morkel, as the latter came to his own during the India tour last year, also has issues with his hamstring, and Chris Morris, the all-rounder, is the likely replacement, should the former fail to pass the fitness test, given Morris’ limited-overs experience that must also give him an edge over Hardus Viljoen, the other squad member called in.
"He (Abbott) has to be 100% symptom-free before he can be made available for selection," a CSA spokesman said.
Previously Lance Klusener had been hired as the lower-order coach and now Smith’s inclusion despite the presence of Russell Domingo and Charl Lengeveldt depicts the lack of confidence that the supposedly most confident side in Test cricket has in themselves.
The image to be carried with the No.1 tag should comfortably be the last thing to worry for the team given such circumstances, and the World Cup semifinalists would hope that the bad omen that had come with the year 2015 is done for good.
The visitors, on the other hand, are, if not completely then partially, in an exact opposite state of mind as compared to their hosts. Joe Root has had the year that separates good players from the great ones, Alastair Cook doesn’t look like falling short of runs – though he did fail in Durban – and Stuart Broad went on a roll at Trent Bridge and hasn’t stopped since.
James Anderson’s likely return, probably with Chris Woakes’ ouster, might make the venomous English pace attack all the more lethal, and the success that Moeen Ali has had- not just in Durban, but since the English summer of 2014 against India, reinforces the chances of England repeating and perhaps bettering their decent run of 2015.
"My thought is you'd probably go with him, so fingers crossed he comes to us and says his body's feeling good," said England's coach Trevor Bayliss of Anderson. The fast bowler practiced a six over spell on the nets on the eve of the Test.
All is not well here, though, as the frenetic English hunt to find Alastair Cook a suitable batting partner hasn’t ended. Alex Hales looked far from settled and in a T20 mode – the one he is best known for – in Durban. He’s most likely to open in Cape Town, though.
Root, along with the comeback man Nick Compton and James Taylor were amongst the runs in the last Test while Ben Stokes showed that he had comfortably recovered from his shoulder injury.
Steven Finn’s resurgence, first seen in the Ashes last year, has developed into dominance, and the trio of Anderson, Broad and Finn might just wreak havoc in the seven Tests than England are supposed to play in their summer this year, should none of them get injured of course.
That they face Pakistan and Sri Lanka, two teams under construction, with former facing internal upheavals following Mohammad Amir’s return, and the latter still reeling from the departure of its legends, adds cherry to the cake.
With the new year, both sides would look to reinvigorate themselves. The only difference being that while the visitors have the pedestal to launch themselves from, the hosts are stuck into a deep trench of disappointments they would find very hard to bounce back from.
The pitch at Newlands generally assists fast bowlers on Day 1, helps the batsmen on days 2 and 3, and crumbles and turns later on days 4 and 5. That it is a cliched description of a perfect Test match pitch must please the home side more than the visitors.
The forecast of five rain-less days of cricket must set this contest up perfectly, and a change in fortunes – of either of the sides – can be expected.
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa.
Time: 1400 IST (08:30 GMT).
England (probable XI): Cook, Hales, Compton, Root, Taylor, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali, Broad, Woakes/Anderson, Finn.
South Africa (probable XI): Elgar, Van Zyl, Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis, Duminy/De Cock, Bavuma/De Cock, Abbott/Morris, Piedt, Morkel, Rabada.