SL vs. SA – ODI Series Preview (and 1st ODI team selection)

South Africa are back in action this week with their limited overs tour of Sri Lanka.

The ODI series kicks off on Thursday and South Africa can use this short 3-match series to give fringe players an opportunity as several key members of the squad; Quinton de Kock, Lungi Ngidi and David Miller are missing from this series.

Thankfully for South Africa, even though they are missing the experienced duo of de Kock and Miller, they do (thankfully I might add) have a vital cog in their squad, in Rassie van der Dussen, who after 26 ODIs, averages a scintillating 75 at a strike-rate of 86. Rassie provides the same role that Hashim Amla did, and we all know how important Amla was to the ODI side. Rassie’s role is to be the rock of the innings, around which the other, more aggressive players (if the Proteas can identify such players) can bat around, and it’s something he excels at but gets an unfair amount of criticism for.

South Africa need to identify big hitters and strong finishers, someone in the mold of JP Duminy, who can lay a platform in the early stages of the innings and then has the ability to switch gears and attack towards the end of the innings. South Africa have tried some candidates in this position, Heinrich Klaasen the one that sticks out, but he has not had a great run in ODIs in 2021, and for this reason, he does not make my team for the first ODI.

In all honestly, the ODI side does look quite weak without some of the key players, a notable omission being former captain, Faf du Plessis, who strangely yet again, has been left out of another Proteas limited overs squad, with view to give “experience of subcontinent conditions to the group of players who have represented South Africa in recent series.” – Victor Mpitsang, convenor of selectors is quoted as saying. However, with other experienced players like de Kock and Miller missing, and very little experience in the batting department as a result, the inclusion of Faf would have been a great benefit to the team as a whole, including to the group of players that Mpitsang is referring to.

It is also no secret how much of an impact player de Kock is. We’ve seen just how differently South Africa perform when he is in the side compared to when he’s not. However, with the next ODI World Cup in less than 18 months’ time, now is the time to give other players a real opportunity and a chance to gain some experience. Players like Kyle Verreynne for example, who hasn’t been given a fair run in the side but has shown incredible promise and potential already. Verreynne therefore makes my team for the first ODI.

With regular opener, Quinton missing, captain, Temba Bavuma and Janneman Malan would be my openers. We never really have to worry about South Africa’s bowling attack, who generally pick themselves, but I would like to give Keshav Maharaj a run in the ODI side, especially in this series, with the next ODI World Cup in the subcontinent.

South Africa’s last ODI series, against Ireland was a rude awakening, having drawn the 3-match series 1-1. Complacency should never creep into a professional athlete’s game, and sadly, this is what happened in Ireland – just rocking up and expecting to win without putting in the performances to get to that outcome. It’s a lesson they keep having to be reminded of and hopefully it’s one that has finally stuck.

They did however win their last ODI series in Sri Lanka, back in 2018, but this was with a very different, and experienced side, including the likes of Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis.

Dwaine Pretorius is back in the Proteas ODI squad and thus provides the team with an extra all-rounder option, along with Andile Phehlukwayo, who did start to find his groove with the ball in their last ODI series as he was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in that series. Given that Pretorius has not played for a significant amount of time, Phehlukwayo would be my choice for the all-rounder spot in the first ODI, with view to give Pretorius some game time throughout the tour.

It is no secret the troubles Sri Lanka cricket has been in over the last few months, both on and off the field, something South Africa are all too familiar with, but they cannot be considered a non-threat, especially when playing at home, South Africa will do well to remember this and not to underestimate them.

Sri Lanka also have some exciting players, including youngster Avishka Fernando and limited overs captain, Dasun Shanaka, who enjoyed a personally good tour of England, despite the team having a simply torrid tour. Unfortunately for the home side however, uncertainty remains on the availability of highly experienced campaigner Kusal Perera, who contracted Covid before the series began.

With both teams struggling for form in the shorter format and South Africa missing key players, this should give a good indication of back-up players (for example, Keshav Maharaj), and should be a good and challenging series, and if South Africa want to be considered a real competitor at the next ODI World Cup, they need to start winning in difficult and unfamiliar conditions on a consistent basis.

The R. Premadasa Stadium is a happy hunting ground for Sri Lanka in ODI cricket, as they have only lost twice at this ground, both times to India recently, in their last 8 games. The weather might play a factor during the first ODI, with rain predicted but this will hopefully not cause any significant disruption to the game.

The first ODI is on Thursday morning, at 11.30am, SA time, live on SuperSport.

 


 

England vs. India – 3rd Test Preview

We’ve waited a long time for the next instalment of this enthralling Test series, and it is finally upon us. The third England vs. India Test.

After India’s domination in the second Test, England find themselves on the back foot, being 1-0 down. Given that they have omitted struggling batsmen Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley from their third Test squad, one thing is for certain, England will have a new opening partnership, most likely Haseeb Hameed, who had a less than impressive return to the Test team last game.

Dawid Malan, who has been in great form in limited overs cricket, has been named in the squad and is likely to make the playing XI and slot in at three to allow captain Joe Root to bat in his customary number 4, and with two centuries and one fifty already in the series, why would you fix what isn’t broken?

Root had yet another scintillating Test match, and another Lord’s masterclass with his majestic 180*. How frustrating to score so many runs and still wind up on the losing side. But Root himself will know he cannot carry the team for much longer, it’s time the others pick up the slack and start performing. Root simply cannot do it alone and he shouldn’t have to.

England’s fast bowling resources are dwindling with yet another bowler being ruled out through injury, this time it’s Mark Wood after sustaining an injured shoulder in the previous Test. Talk is that his replacement could be either Craig Overton or Saqib Mahmood, who has had a good run in limited overs cricket this season. My vote is for Mahmood – a young fast bowler, able to reach speeds of up to 90mph and extract reverse swing, he could be a handful for India.

While England have some selection headaches to mull over, India have some good news with Shardul Thakur being announced fit, and with cloudy skies predicted for the course of the next few days, and the fact that Ravindra Jadeja has failed to make any sort of impact with the ball throughout this series thus far, India may look to bring in Thakur in his place.

Jadeja does provide depth to the lower batting, but Thakur is no slouch with the bat and could provide some stability to the lower order. India will also be bolstered by the fact Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane both had valuable time in the middle and scored priceless runs in the last Test, which in all honesty, was the turning point in the match. If not for them, things could have gone very differently. Let’s also not forget the incredible batting from India’s newest bowling all-rounders (just kidding), Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Wasn’t that fun to watch? Now all India need is for their captain to come to the party and their batting problems will in essence be sorted.

Mohammed Siraj has been a shining light for India since his arrival to the Test arena. Full of passion, purpose and fight, he exudes all these characteristics whenever he steps onto the field, be it with the ball or bat in hand. The way he bowled on Day 5 was exceptional. He never gave up and this is what India’s youth of Siraj and Pant have brought into the side, with this “never say die” attitude, and they have shown exactly how beneficial blending youth and experience can be for your team.

We should hopefully have a full 5 days of play in the next Test, the only thing that might come into play is bad light late in the day, which in itself is a pain. When time was lost in the ongoing WI vs. Pakistan second Test, they started the next day 30 minutes earlier. Why that can’t be done in Tests in the UK boggles the mind.

With some bad blood brewing in this series, specifically between India and James Anderson, things will get interesting, and if Anderson plays, watch out – things could get fun, because as we know, Jimmy does like to show his frustration quite easily.

India are full of confidence, but with three Tests still to go, they know they can’t rest on their laurels and need to keep their foot on the gas. A win in the 3rd Test means they cannot lose the series and with World Test Championship points up for grabs, it’s all to play for.

The 3rd Test starts at 12pm (SA time) on Wednesday 25th August.


England vs. India – 2nd Test Preview

It was a damp start to the new World Test Championship cycle as the first England vs. India Test ended in a draw after rain completely washed-out Day 5 with both sides confident of a win.

However, unlike other teams, who after one Test is washed out, would only the have one, maybe two more Tests (if they’re lucky) in a series, these two teams are afforded the luxury of four more Tests to battle it out.

England continue to struggle with their batting, with another monumental collapse in their first innings, rather reminiscent of their famous collapses in the 1990s (if you’re old enough to remember those, that is). Many of their hopes rest on the shoulders of their captain, Joe Root, who once again proved his worth with a majestic century in England’s second innings. Root is England’s leading run-scorer in Tests in 2021, with 1064 runs. England’s next best is Dan Lawrence with just 354. Ben Stokes’ indefinite leave from cricket has left a massive hole in the England team and not one they can fill anytime soon. But this just highlights the reliance on one or two players and when you take one out, you see the real cracks in the team. Much like with South Africa and a certain Quinton de Kock.

The opening partnership remains a concern for England as Rory Burns and Dom Sibley have only put on two fifty-plus opening stands in 2021, meaning they are failing to set a platform for their batting order and therefore putting more pressure on Joe Root to score the majority of the teams’ runs, something he is not unused to.

Zak Crawley is in awful form this year, and is averaging a rather embarrassing 11.14 in Tests in 2021. With Haseeb Hameed in great form in domestic cricket, he is banging down that door to Test selection and really, there is no doubt that he should play in place of Crawley for the second Test.

Moeen Ali, who last played a Test for England back in February of this year against India, and hasn’t played a home Test since the Ashes in 2019 has been recalled to the squad for the second Test, and is likely to get into the playing XI, perhaps in place of Dan Lawrence.

The quick turn-around of Tests in this 5-match series means England need to manage their bowlers, more specifically the veteran pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. England may choose to rest Anderson from the second Test and bring in the extra pace of Mark Wood to trouble the Indian batters, especially with the short ball, which proved to be Rohit Sharma’s undoing in the first Test.

While India held the upper hand throughout much of the first Test, Virat Kohli will hope for a much better personal performance with the bat in the next Test after his golden duck, which I think astonished not just Kohli but the whole of the cricketing world watching. Kohli possesses incredible skill and passion and will be expecting nothing short of a top-class century at Lords later this week.

India’s middle order batting of Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane is their strength, and for them to all fail in the first innings of the first Test was a nightmare for India. All three are vastly experienced, and have faced tough batting conditions in their careers before. This series should be no different for them.

India surprised everyone by including just the solitary spin of Ravindra Jadeja for the opening Test and leaving out the experienced Ravi Ashwin. I personally don’t see any reason why they would change this for the next Test. Jadeja not only provides a world-class spin option, but he also provides depth to the batting, having scored a wonderful and counter-attacking half-century in the opening Test. Jadeja is a world-class all-rounder and can get into the team as either a batter of bowler.

The next Test is at the home of cricket, where touring teams generally do well, and India will be hoping to carry on this tradition. The weather in London, while cloudy, will hopefully stay dry. But overcast conditions in London means the bowlers will be happy and batting will not be easy, but hey, isn’t that why this is called “Test Cricket”?

 


 

WI vs. SA – T20I Series Preview

The Test series is done and dusted; the teams will now switch focus to the shortest format as the T20I series is set to begin.

Both teams will be looking to use this 5-match series to get a better understanding of their potential World Cup squads, with the T20I World Cup, just 4 months away now and with a limited number of games available now.

West Indies have enjoyed success in this format, having only lost 2 of their last 5 series. This is a format where the Windies shine, and they have a very strong team. The Universe Boss is back and will look to unleash at the top of the order. We only need to look at what’s transpired in the IPL to know what captain, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo are capable of, and with bowlers like Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas, they are building a very strong World Cup team. This will be a good test for the Proteas.

South Africa have had a torrid time in this format, winning only 4 of their last 16 t20Is, and subsequently losing their last 5 series’, 3 of which have been at home.

Having a strong squad goes a long way to having good performances, and thankfully, South Africa have done away with the experiment of Pite van Biljon and JJ Smuts, who, whilst they are fine cricketers for franchises, struggled to make that step up to international cricket. The Proteas have continued to support their young players like Janneman Malan, Kyle Verreynne and Bjorn Fortuin, which is encouraging to see, and they have a strong bowling attack with KG Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi back after missing the previous series against Pakistan.

I am pleased Sisanda Magala was selected again. He would be the first to admit that his debut T20I series didn’t go quite according to plan, but the selectors must trust that he will learn from that experience which will only make him better going forward. His death bowling skills are essential to a successful South African bowling attack.

Lizaad Williams was thoroughly impressive in the T20I series against Pakistan earlier this year, and was the leading South African wicket-taker in that series, and it would be good for him to get experience outside of South Africa. It wouldn’t hurt to rotate the likes of Rabada, Nortje and Ngidi throughout the series and play Magala and Williams in a couple of the T20Is to give them this experience.

Andile Phehlukwayo has been in a run of poor form lately and his performances in the teams last T20I encounter left a lot to be desired with him not fulfilling his all-rounder role. Therefore, I am opting for George Linde as my all-rounder in the first T20I, along with the no.1 T20I bowler in the world, Tabraiz Shamsi

South Africa have not announced a vice captain for the T20I side, and there are doubts as to whether Temba Bavuma will recover from his dislocated finger in time for the opening fixture. Seeing as Heinrich Klaasen led the side in Bavuma’s absence in the Pakistan series, Klaasen is the likely choice to lead the team in Bavuma’s absence now. However, if Bavuma is fit, Klaasen does not make my playing XI for the opening game, but could feature in the remaining matches.

After winning the Test series so comprehensively, South Africa need to make a statement in the T20I series, to that end, for the opening fixture I propose they go in with their strongest playing XI and then look to rotate players (Klaasen, Magala, Williams, Fortuin, Markram etc.) in the remaining matches. The key is to start strong, and they can do that with their best and most consistent XI.

This series is going to be hard-fought one but is sure to provide a great deal of enjoyment. With entertainers like Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, how could it not?

The first T20I starts on Saturday evening, 8pm SA time.

 


My playing XI for the opening game only:

Quinton de Kock, Janneman Malan, Temba Bavuma (c), Rassie vd Dussen, David Miller, Kyle Verreynne, George Linde, KG Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi & Lungi Ngidi

 

 

 

WI vs. SA – 2nd Test Preview

Their captain asked for them to get back to a South African way of scoring centuries and taking five-wicket hauls.

He asked and they delivered as South Africa won the first Test by an emphatic innings and 63 runs and registered their first away Test win since 2017.

Quinton de Kock scored his best Test score on his way to a majestic 141* and in doing so, silenced all his critics that were calling for his removal from the Test team. It was a timely reminder that form is temporary, class is permanent.

The South African pace attack was as lethal as you could imagine, with Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje ripping the West Indies batting apart in the first innings, and Ngidi getting to his second Test five-for with incredible figures of 5-19. Anrich Nortje, sporting a new look bowled with pace, aggression but most importantly accuracy on his way to 4-35. Kagiso Rabada was under a great deal of pressure coming into this series, but he was his impeccable self, with nagging lines and lengths making the batsmen play, and to all of South Africa’s enjoyment, he got his first five-wicket haul since 2018.

Keegan Petersen and Kyle Verreynne were finally given Test debuts and despite neither going on to make a notable contribution, they should remain in the team for the second Test. Petersen in particular was impressive in his short stay at the crease, scoring 19. As previously stated, Kyle Verreynne will make mistakes but he will learn from them, the only way that can happen though is with time in the middle, so please give him that, even if Temba Bavuma is fit. With this in mind, South Africa should keep a winning team going and make no changes to their playing XI for the next Test. Whether that happens will be another story.

An area of concern for South Africa is the form of the opening duo, Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram, who in their last 18 Test innings, have only scored 2 fifty-plus partnerships (both against a very depleted Sri Lankan bowling attack late last year). The opening partnership has essentially one job, see off the new ball. It’s not the easiest job, but it’s the job they chose, so they need to do it. With Dean Elgar as the captain now, and talking about wanting more Test centuries, it was disappointing on many levels to see him play a loose stroke in the very first over of the Proteas first innings of the first Test. What message does that send to the rest of the batting line-up?

The performance of the West Indies batting was quite honestly, poor. It was only Roston Chase in the second innings, who showed any resistance with a fine 62, but he needed support. West Indies have talented batsmen, who have proven themselves in the past. They are up against a formidable pace attack yes, but they have been picked as the best players in their side and they need to start batting like it. Too many of the WI batsman gave their wickets away and that was disappointing, to not see them fight.

All hope was not lost for the home side however, with the performance of debutant, 19-year-old Jayden Seales. With only one first-class game under his belt prior to the first Test the West Indies selectors saw something special in him and gave him a chance. He did not disappoint with 3-75 in his maiden Test innings, removing Markram, Petersen and Verreynne. He bowled with accuracy and gave the Proteas batsmen something to think about. It will be exciting to see how he goes in the second Test.

With the series on the line, West Indies will hope to put in a much better performance with the bat and ensure they do not lose a home series. South Africa on the other hand will hope to get their first away series win since March 2017 when they beat New Zealand in New Zealand 1-0.

The Test starts on Friday 18th June at 4pm, SA time, live only on SuperSport

 


 

ENG vs. NZ – 2nd Test Preview

After the first Test at Lords was a draw, thanks in large part to the poor weather, resulting in the whole of Day 3 being washed out, we now move to Edgbaston for the second and final Test of the series with it all to play for.

New Zealand, to their credit, tried to make a game of the first Test with their generous declaration, but England set their heals in and opted for the safe draw. With no World Test Championship (WTC) points up for grabs, one could have argued they should have tried at the very least to go for the carrot Williamson dangled. But with an inexperienced batting lineup with Stokes and Buttler missing, and with four of England’s batsmen on pairs in the second innings, England took the cautious approach.

Regarding team selections, New Zealand coach, Gary Stead has confirmed changes to their playing XI, Mitch Santner has been ruled out due to a finger injury, Kane Williamson has a recurrence of an elbow injury and is being monitored, with a late decision to be made on his availability. With the WTC final just 8 days away, New Zealand are tentative about risking him for that match. Meanwhile Trent Boult having arrived early in the UK for the final against India, is likely to be included in the 2nd Test. Fast bowlers typically need time in the middle to find their groove, and with Boult having played no professional cricket since the IPL in March, playing in the 2nd Test would honestly be common sense. Player workloads also need to be managed, therefore Tim Southee may be the player rested for Boult’s inclusion.

If Williamson is cleared to play, he will be looking to make more of an impact in the 2nd Test as he and Ross Taylor, both seasoned campaigners had relative failures in the first Test, scoring only 14 runs (Williamson) and 47 runs (Taylor), respectively. With only one professional game left before the final, they will both look to take advantage of the situation and have some quality time in the middle at Edgbaston.

While England should be planning for the next Test and their summer of Test cricket, they are having to deal with the aftermath of Ollie Robinson’s suspension from all international cricket, following a series of racist and sexist tweets in his youth. To make matters worse for England, another player, unnamed as of now but we do know he is in the current team, has since been known to have posted tweets of a discriminatory nature in their past, and may be withdrawn from the squad. This would then impact what changes they make to their team for the 2nd Test.

To add the sour cherry on top of this cake, England have also been fined 40% of their match fees from the first Test for a slow over rate. With this in mind, Jack Leach, England’s premier spinner, is likely to be recalled to the side, which will help to speed up their bowling rates.

With only Sam Billings as another keeping option but having no prior Test experience, England will likely stick with James Bracey, even though he had a less than impressive debut, stumbling with the gloves and failing to make a contribution with the bat in the only innings he batted. This will be a big test for him to prove his worth on the big stage before the first-choice players of Buttler & Foakes return.

England’s rest & rotation policy means that James Anderson and Stuart Broad are not likely to both play in the final Test. At 38 years old, and with five Tests against India coming up, never mind the five Ashes Tests this winter, Anderson will need to be managed.

An important Test, not in the context of any World Test Championship points, but for personal pride with both teams not wanting to go into their next series on the back of a series defeat, they will be looking to end the series on a high.

Watch all the action, live on SuperSport from 12pm on Thursday 10th June

 


 

WI vs. SA – 1st Test Preview

It is a new era in South African Test cricket, under another new captain, and a new set of challenges for the South African team with their first tour of the West Indies in 11 years.

Dean Elgar has been saying all the right words ahead of the first Test against West Indies on Thursday, about wanting to get back to the South African way of scoring hundreds and taking five wicket hauls, talking about upskilling and being ready.

Whilst this is all great to read and is certainly enough to motivate and get pumped up, we all know what has transpired in the past. They say one thing and do another. We’ve all heard these positive words before, about needing to do better, but it’s how they translate that onto the field that matters.

The very fact that South Africa have crossed the 300-run mark only twice in their last 15 Test innings, and only three centuries scored in their last 8 Tests speaks volumes of how poor they have batted as a unit. An inability to stay at the crease, to bat time, to dig in and do a Dom Sibley or Devon Conway – that is what South Africa need to remember how to do. Do away with the T20 shots, do away with the flashes and loose drives, bat to stay at the crease, to build partnerships. It is about time that the top order do what they are there to do and build a solid foundation for the rest of the batting lineup to capitalize on.

To that end, Keegan Petersen, who has been patiently waiting for his chance in the Test team is likely to finally make his Test debut in the opening Test. A player with a wealth of domestic experience under his belt, a strong player of spin and a consistent performer for the Dolphins, with a first-class average of 41 to his name.

A selection question for the Proteas (but really nobody else) is that of Kyle Verreynne. He is a proven performer in 4-day cricket for the Six Gun Grill Cape Cobras, with a first-class average of 56, and he has also excelled in the little international cricket he has had. The only way he’ll learn about real life match situations and how to deal with them is by being in them. With the next cycle of the World Test Championship cycle soon to begin, with the T20 World Cup just 4 months away, with a 50-over World Cup in just over 2 years time, now is the time to get Verreyenne in and let him learn. He will make mistakes, he will have failures, but he will learn how to deal with them and that will make him a better cricketer, because he is as talented as they come.

South Africa will be up against a strong West Indies side, who have gone unbeaten in two of their last 3 home Test series’ against England, India and Sri Lanka, and who famously beat Bangladesh in their home turf earlier this year. They have also been developing a new group of young and exciting cricketers over the past few seasons; Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner and Kyle Mayers are three exciting and talented cricketers, along with their tried and trusted opening batsman, and now captain Kraigg Brathwaite and experienced bowlers Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and the incredibly impressive Alzarri Joseph. A big threat to the Proteas batting unit, with their well-known struggles against spin is Rahkeem Cornwall, how they face him will be a big challenge. Shai Hope is back in the Windies team after being dropped due to a string of poor performances, but Hope is an extremely talented cricketer with so much potential to be great, and he scored the only century in the intra-squad fixture prior to this series. He will be looking to make a statement in this two-Test series and prove the selectors right for giving him another chance.

The Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium is not a happy hunting ground for the Windies, having won only once in their 7 Tests at this venue but despite this, they will be consisted favourites as the home side, and against a side that is young, relatively inexperienced, especially in these conditions, and having gone through some turbulence both on and off the field.

The Test starts at 4pm, SA time, on Thursday 10th June


My proposed playing XI

Dean Elgar (c), Aiden Markram, Rassie vd Dussen, Keegan Petersen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne, Quinton de Kock (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje & Lungi Ngidi


 

ENG vs. NZ – First Test Preview

It’s been a long wait, but Test cricket is finally back with England’s home summer of cricket set to begin on June 2nd against World Test Champion finalists, New Zealand.

While the blockbuster event of the summer is the World Test Championship final between India and New Zealand, first on the agenda is this two-Test series.

This is a milestone Test for James Anderson in his long 18-year career, if he is selected, as he will equal Alastair Cook’s record for most England Test appearances. An amazing feat for any player, but for a fast bowler who is nearing his 39th birthday, this is simply remarkable. Anderson also needs just 8 wickets to reach yet another milestone of 1000 first-class wickets. A special Test match for Anderson at Lords, his 24th appearance at this beautiful ground will surely be one to remember.

England will be without a number of their regular Test playing team. Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes are ruled out due to injury, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran have been left out due to the rest and rotation policy, and to top it off, the most skilled wicket-keeper batsman, Ben Foakes is out for potentially the whole summer after tearing a hamstring. Despite this, England have a strong group of players, and of course, have home advantage.

New Zealand on the other hand will be mostly at full strength and are a team full of experience and youth.  Devon Conway, who has impressed in recent times, and most recently in New Zealand’s warm-up match, is likely to make his Test debut in the first Test. Conway, coupled with the experience of middle order players, captain Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, and top order players Henry Nichols and Tom Latham, who has been one of the most consistent opening batsmen in recent times, New Zealand are a settled and strong team. Despite not playing very much cricket throughout the year, they are incredibly impressive in their ability to work as a cohesive unit whenever they come together for a series. This tour will be no different.

Even though New Zealand’s last tour of England was six years ago, they have managed to maintain a large majority of their Test playing team. As many as seven players are part of this current touring group and with that, comes a great deal of experience of English conditions, and the added advantage of being able to assist the young members of the group, for instance Kyle Jamieson who is looking to the experienced members to help guide him on his first tour to England.

This is going to be an extremely fascinating series between the two bowling attacks. England on the one hand have home advantage and we all know, if the conditions are suitable, they will cause havoc. But New Zealand possess a potent attack themselves. Tim Southee is one of the best Test bowlers in the world, but New Zealand also have Neil Wagner at their disposal, with his left-arm fast paced swing bowling. He is the one bowler I am incredibly excited to see bowl. If Trent Boult misses out on this series, as reports have suggested, Jamieson is hopeful of taking on the opening bowling duties for his team, although he is cautious about the use of the Dukes ball and getting carried away with the swing it offers. This attack will however be a real test for England.

Weather in the UK is sometimes unpredictable, and the first Test in London looks overcast for all the 5 days, but hopefully there will be little time lost due to rain.

The Test starts at 12pm (SA time) on Wednesday 2nd June at Lord’s


SA vs. PAK T20I Series – South Africa’s Post-Mortem

Another T20I series, another T20I series loss for South Africa. It is now their fifth consecutive loss in the format, and even more worryingly, their fourth loss at home.

Already without their key players that are currently in India for the IPL, South Africa’s job was made infinitely more difficult with poor team selections and questionable captaincy decisions, day in, day out.

The final T20I was no exception as they inexplicably chose a playing XI with only four genuine batsmen. Four.

It was very clear that the bowling was the issue for the hosts in the previous games, but to panic and fill the team with bowlers and bowling all-rounders was a mistake, and then they wonder why they were bowled out for 144.

Kyle Verreynne consistently being overlooked is cause for concern. Mark Boucher’s excuses that he was a back-up to Heinrich Klaasen, or that T20 cricket is a “bit different” that ODIs are, quite honestly, just that, excuses.

Klaasen and Verreynne were in the same playing XI against Australia last year and in the final ODI against Pakistan in this current tour, so explain to me why they couldn’t be in the same team now?

Verreynne has had some incredible success at the highest level already, averaging 40 in ODIs with two half-centuries to his name in only four games. If he can adapt from four-day cricket, where he averages a very healthy 56, to ODIs, surely it stands to reason he could translate that into T20Is.

How else is he going to learn how to deal with real match situations if he’s not given the chance to do so? This is exactly the point JP Duminy made on commentary during the final T20I. The best place for players to learn is out in the middle, under pressure. Mark Boucher has robbed Verreynne of this priceless experience with just a handful of T20Is left before the T20I World Cup in October.

Heinrich Klaasen’s captaincy at times during the T20I series left a lot to be desired. His use of his bowlers was questionable and his lack of leadership when times were tough was disappointing. Seeing his five frontline bowlers getting bludgeoned all over the park, Klaasen refused to try another option. This goes back to what I’ve said about the Proteas, never having a plan B. Never being able to see that Plan A isn’t working and adapt. The 3rd T20I was case in point.

Sisanda Magala struggled in his first international series and at times was very disappointing but at other times showed great promise. I for one have to wonder, if he had been playing with the likes of Rabada, Nortje and Ngidi, how much of a difference would that have made to his confidence, knowing there are these three experienced bowlers who gave gone through the same thing, who can lend a helping hand and a few words of wisdom. With so much pressure and anticipation for him to succeed on his young shoulders, that was surely bound to cause some nerves. My hope is that the selectors continue to give him opportunities in the future.

Lizaad Williams on the other hand was very impressive as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in the T20I series with 7 wickets at a miserly average of 21. He wears his heart on his sleeve, shows so much passion for his team, and is a wonderful competitor who never gives up.

We can say it till we’re blue in the face that it wasn’t South Africa’s first choice team, and whilst that is true, they did have their full-strength side in their previous four T20I series losses, so this excuse only goes so far. The bowling attack also showed in the second T20I that they have the ability to do the job. They just failed to execute their bowling plans consistently and at this level, that is going to hurt you. As they found out.

A large part of where it went wrong for South Africa was in their basic disciplines. Pakistan bowled just the solitary no ball in the four-match series, compared to South Africa’s 8. A number of dropped catches, some sloppy ground fielding and a lack of intensity in the field is indicative of poor training. Mark Boucher claims that they are doing the hard work behind closed doors, but the results are on the field and that is not what we are seeing. Someone’s lying and the sooner they are honest with themselves, the better.

This ends a dreadful summer for South African cricket where their only success was against a depleted and injury ridden Sri Lankan side all the way back in January.

 


 

SA vs. Pakistan – ODI Series Preview

Pakistan arrived in Johannesburg late in March 2021 for their limited overs tour of South Africa, and having won the Test and T20I series back home earlier this year, they will be full of confidence.

Captain Babar Azam has been in sparkling form over the past 18 months in all formats of the game (although had a slight dip in form earlier this year), and was the second highest run-scorer for Pakistan in their last ODI series in South Africa in 2019, with an average of 48.75, behind only Imam-ul-Haq, who was the leading run-scorer from both teams with an average of 54.20.

With Imam at the top, Pakistan will look to him to get the off to a positive start and put the pressure on the South African bowlers.

Pakistan’s batsmen are no longer afraid of the short ball and are attacking and aggressive in the shorter format. South Africa will need to have other plans to counter their attacking cricket and not just rely on the short ball.

With Shaheen Afridi, who has been in incredible form himself all over the world, they have a strike bowler who has the ability to take early wickets and put the opposition on the back foot early. Afridi also was the second leading wicket-taker on their previous tour in 2019 with 6 wickets at an incredible average of 23.16 – the best of any bowler, who played more than 2 ODIs. Shaheen has grown in experience and skill over the past three years and is a key player for Pakistan. If he has a good series, South Africa will struggle.

Pakistan have a talented group of players, including Mohammad Rizwan who has been in incredible form of late and will hope to continue this in South Africa. It is fortunate for Pakistan that they had been playing a lot of cricket recently with the Pakistan Super League before it was postponed due to the virus, and therefore shouldn’t be rusty coming into this series.

South Africa have named a large squad for the ODI series and unfortunately not everyone will get a chance to play, but it is encouraging that Sisanda Magala has been given a call-up, after continuing to perform consistently for the Lions. He can become an important player for the Proteas going forward, if he’s just given a chance and this series is a perfect opportunity to do just that.

South Africa have a good record in ODIs, having not lost an ODI series since February 2018, and they enjoyed a 3-0 whitewash over Australia in their last ODI series in February 2020, before the pandemic, with Heinrich Klaasen and Janneman Malan faring particularly well. It is therefore important to show the faith in these players and select them for this series.

This will new captain Temba Bavuma’s first series in charge of the Proteas. However, having been captain of the Lions for some time, this will not be new to him. An important top order player, after Janneman and Quinton, who are both naturally attacking players, he will be looked upon to be the rock that the others can bat around, much in the same vein as the legendary Hashim Amla, and with an ODI average of 55.83, he is more than capable to accept this challenge.

Quinton de Kock had been in what could quite possibly be the worst form of his career when the Proteas last played international cricket, but now with the burden of captaincy off his shoulders, he can be free to open the innings and play his natural and destructive game, and hopefully for South Africa’s sake, that will result in him regaining his form.

Given that Cricket South Africa has allowed players participating in the IPL to leave for India after the second ODI, players like KG Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Quinton de Kock and David Miller can, and should definitely play in the first ODI.

Once these players leave for the IPL, this opens it up to give other players a chance, like Kyle Verreynne and Aiden Markram, who are young and smart and have bright futures ahead of them with the Proteas. With the next 50 over World Cup in two and half years, the Proteas need to give young players opportunities now in international cricket, to get experience of diffident playing conditions and situations.

Rassie van der Dussen provides stability in the middle order, and he’s been a proven performer for the Proteas. South Africa need players in the middle that can be responsible, but effective, and Rassie, with an outstanding ODI average of 70.70, ticks those boxes.

Andile Phehlukwayo is undoubtedly talented but his form of late has been questionable. He needs time in domestic cricket to get that form back. He is very important to South Africa’s fortunes in the future, and they need him at his best.

Given that Centurion, the venue for the first ODI is typically known to be more suited to fast bowling, one spinner should be sufficient.

Playing five specialized bowlers could be risky. However, all the bowlers selected have shown good form lately in domestic cricket. Therefore, I am fully confident they will put in a solid performance.

With South Africa ranked 5th and Pakistan 6th in the ICC team ODI rankings, this is going to be an interesting series. Who will come out on top? Time will tell.

The first ODI is a day game that takes place on Good Friday, April 2nd at 10am SA time