Investec 4th test preview - England and South Africa.WRITTEN BY THE EDITOR ON AUGUST 02, 2017. POSTED IN SPORTS
At the end of the 3rd test South African captain Faf Du Plessis mentioned how when you are playing well, you don’t want a lot of time off between tests.
This sadly was the case for him and his team after the big Trent Bridge win though. A 9 day break proved to be far from ideal and was followed by a crushing loss. England however have no such problems, and have a quick turn around for the next test after their 239 run win at The Oval. 2-1 up in the series now, you would certainly think they have more than the upper hand going into Old Trafford.
This past month of test cricket has taught us not to jump to conclusions though, so let’s look at the current situation from a few perspectives. With this approach we can uncover some key insights that may change how you see things going from Friday.
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The momentum myth
I believe in momentum in sport, but you get those closer to the game that dismiss it as nothing more than something journalists read too much into. This series is starting to make me believe in this as the English seemed confident in bowling first at Trent Bridge after the Lords triumph, only for the Proteas to stand up and dictate the play after a slow start.
Momentum may have been with the Proteas going into The Oval, but the moment Vernon Philander left the field after bowling 4 overs, it was all England. History counts for very little at this level, and with all the many elements of test cricket being what they are, to think a team has an edge based in previous play is often nothing more than whimsical.
England finding their stride
We can perhaps throw away momentum then as a talking point, but what we cannot shy away from is the fact that the English team looked like they had found their perfect balance at The Oval. There was uncertainty around the debutants, and if the team would be able to reshape with purpose midway through the series. They did just that though, and now with a full match under the belt together, they promise to be even better at Old Trafford.
A series of mistakes
In the three tests played so far, it has been easy to praise the victors and how they have gone about recording the emphatic wins. You could just as easily point out how weak and error riddled the teams were in defeat however.
Being beaten by a better team is fine, but making it easy for the opponents isn’t something top teams should do.
Learning from your, ah, mistakes
Both sides have been hot and cold this series which has lead to the results being what they are. Enough has been learned now though, players have been given chances, and conditions have been experienced. As I mentioned above, these are good teams so the Old Trafford encounter suggests we may finally have an even contest where brilliance will be what changes the course of play.
Win the toss, win the match
There is a growing sentiment among cricket fans in this series, and actually in the last while how winning the toss often means winning the test. Pitches are being set up to provide exciting clashes, and to be ‘result’ surfaces. This of course means that batting last is the most unenviable of tasks with the pitch breaking up.
In this series the ‘win the toss win the match’ sentiment has rung true, and the expectation of it continuing at Old Trafford is high.
There is still an even contest to be had out there
Though I am worried with how the toss has become so crucial in test cricket, the conditions have still allowed for fair contests in this series. The problem as mentioned above has been with the teams’ performances. The Oval was a fair surface to bat on, as Dean Elgar proved late in the game. The shot selection from the Proteas in general this series has been poor, so if they get that right it doesn’t have to mean all is lost if the toss is.
Test cricket is meant to be hard and uncompromising. It is as much a test of character as it is of skill and players need to remember that. Get the basics right, build pressure and you will gain the upper hand.
The selection conundrum shifts back to South Africa
Going into the third test it was England that simply had to ring the changes. Two were injury forced while the third was more performance based. The changes paid dividends which has to be tempting the Proteas to do the same.
Is there anything to be gained here though for the visitors? Question marks hang over Heino Kuhn at the top of the batting order. He has done everything possible to make it into the team, but he has certainly struggled at this level. Does young Markram then come in for him and make his debut? His talent is unquestionable, but is a swinging Duke ball against an inform bowling attack really the best start point for him?
Chris Morris has bowled some incredible balls in this series, but they can be counted on one hand. He leaks runs, and puts pressure on the rest of the attack. A replacement for him is not something that instantly comes to mind though. Andile Phehlukwayo is essentially the next in line, but like Markram, a debut now could do more harm than good for the youngster. So it could just be in the Proteas best interests to just put trust in the players and hope they deliver on their promise.
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