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is in the current team, has since been known to have posted tweets of a discriminatory nature in their past, and may be withdrawn from the squad.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


Life After Faf

Given that now Faf du Plessis has announced his retirement from Test Cricket, South Africa will need to think about who will replace this legend and take up the number 4 slot in the Test team.

Let’s take a look at the top 5 contenders who I feel could stake a claim for this spot:

Zubayr Hamza

Having already played 5 Tests, Hamza has had a taste of the big stage. Some will argue that after 10 innings, and an average of 18 with one half-century, Hamza hasn’t taken his chance. I, on the other hand argue that after just 10 innings, he hasn’t had a fair chance to showcase what he can do. Being one of only a handful of batsmen on that ill-fated India tour in 2019 to score a half-century, Hamza showed patience, technique and skill to bat in tough conditions. He should be given another chance in the Test team, and this could be the perfect opportunity to do so.

Keegan Petersen

Consistently scoring runs for the Dolphins for multiple seasons, and averaging 58 in the 2020/21 four-day competition, Keegan Peterson can no longer be ignored. Despite receiving his maiden call-up to the Test team, he is still waiting for his chance but now that a position has become available, this could be his chance to shine. With a wealth of experience of domestic cricket under his belt, he will appreciate the enormity of the situation and hopefully for him, if offered, will take his chance with both hands.

Raynard van Tonder

A young and exciting player, Raynard van Tonder is the leading run-scorer in the domestic four-day competition this season with 604 runs at 67. Typically known to bat at 3, van Tonder is a solid performer as evidenced by his incredibly impressive first-class average of 50 after 33 matches. He could adopt the number 3 slot in the Proteas Test team, which would allow Rassie van der Dussen to drop one spot down the order.

Sarel Erwee

An opener by trade, it could well be worth introducing Saral Erwee into the Test team as a number 3 or 4 batsman. This would allow him to settle into the side without having to face the enormous task of opening in Test Cricket, which thankfully for South Africa has been settled for some time now. Despite being placed fifth in the leading run-scores with 422 runs, his average of 60 is very impressive, with two half-centuries and one century to speak of in the 5 games this season. Not a bad return at all for the experienced campaigner.

Rudi Second

Having scored 504 runs at 56 in the current season of the domestic four-day competition, and having a career first-class average of 45, Rudi Second has long been thought of as a worthy Test Cricketer, Is this now his time? A genuine number 4 batsman, and not unaccustomed to having to rescue an innings, he will fit in well with the Proteas.

Thankfully for the Proteas, there is no Test cricket on the horizon in the near future, so panic selections can be avoided. I can only hope though, that once a replacement is made, this player is given ample opportunity to prove himself.


SA in Pakistan – SA’s T20I performance

If you didn’t watch any of the games in the Pakistan vs. South Africa T20I series, but saw the series result, you might think 2-1 win to Pakistan was inevitable. Pakistan playing at home, against a very inexperienced South African line up. But despite the outcome, the games were actually closely matched.

The biggest positive South Africa can take from the series was the performance of Tabraiz Shamsi, who was the joint leading wicket-taker in the series, with 6 wickets, along with fellow countryman Dwaine Pretorius. For a spinner, bowling in those crucial middle overs, when batsman are looking to accelerate, to have an economy rate of under 6, and average of 10.16 is phenomenal. He has improved in consistency and accuracy, and  shown he will be a great threat in the T20 World Cup later this year.

Dwaine Pretorius also enjoyed a promising series, averaging 10.5 at an economy rate of 7. Pretorius is such an important player for South Africa. He’s not quick, but that is not a prerequisite to be successful in international cricket. He bowls consistently, a good line and length, and he nails those yorkers exceptionally well, especially at the death.

While it was good to see David Miller with a significant contribution in the final game, scoring 85*, how long are we going to have to wait for another performance like that? For all his experience, performing well in one out of three games is not the consistency required. Out of all the games Miller plays, odds are that eventually it’ll be his day, but is it worth it keeping a young player out, hoping for another elusive “Miller Time” innings? He is not a player South Africa can rely on to always put in a solid performance. The time has come to move on from Miller and put their time and effort into a young and exciting player and give them a chance.

The performance of Andile Phehlukwayo was disappointing. Seen as a very important middle order player and all-rounder, Phehlukwayo scored just 14 runs in the series, and took 3 wickets at 33 with an economy rate of over 10. For a player known for his consistency and death bowling prowess, this is surely a series he’d like to forget.

It was really encouraging to see Glenton Stuurman make his T20I debut, but it was disappointing that he was dropped after just one game, and not given another opportunity. It should be remembered it was his first international match, and away from home, nerves would be expected. International cricket has a steep learning curve and T20 internationals aren’t easy to make your debut as they are so fast paced and batsmen are looking for any opportunity to score and they would likely target the debutant, so he needs to be given more time. Hopefully he will be given another chance to play because that’s the only way he’ll learn and improve.

While South Africa did well to give Stuurman his debut, it was disheartening that others were not. Given that the T20 World Cup is just six months away, and in India, this was the perfect opportunity to give other, new players a chance, namely Ryan Rickelton. It is frustrating that they take these young players on tour, away from their franchises, to just sit on the bench or carry drinks. And yes, they say that being in the team environment is a benefit, but there’s only so much you can learn without being on the field. The quicker he gets into the playing XI, along with Kyle Verreynne, the quicker South Africa will be able to start building for the future.

For being such an inexperienced side, the players will have gained valuable experience from this series and can take the positives into the next series.

South Africa have a chance to settle the score when the teams meet again in a couple months’ time, this time in South Africa. That is sure to be a very exciting series, and will be interesting to see how Pakistan fare on the bouncy South African pitches.


IND vs. ENG – 2nd Test Preview

Not many would have given England a hope of winning the first Test, with so many factors against them: Virat Kohli back, Jasprit Bumrah recovered from injury and maybe most significant of all, India at home. England however put in a near perfect game, from Day 1 to win the opening Test of the series by 227 runs and lead the 4-match series 1-0.

It was only the second time since 2013 that India had lost a home Test, which highlights just how dominant they are at home. Virat Kohli has also now lost his last four Test matches as captain.

Joe Root on the other hand could not have asked for a better 100th Test, scoring yet another double century and leading his team to their 6th consecutive away Test win in the subcontinent.

What was encouraging for England was the all-round performances from the team. Dom Bess with 4 wickets in the first innings, Jack Leach with 4 in the second, and best of all, was James Anderson, who executed a remarkable spell of reverse swing on Day 5, that ripped out any chance of an Indian fightback with his 3-17.

England have made a number of changes to their squad for the second Test, with Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Ollie Stone & Chris Woakes coming in for Anderson, Buttler, Bess & Archer, who suffered pain in his elbow and is being rested as a precaution after taking painkilling injections.

For India, Axar Patel, who missed the first Test due to a left knee injury has been declared fit and is all set to make his Test debut. As a result, Shahbaz Nadeem, who struggled for accuracy and consistency has been dropped from the squad.

Shubman Gill, playing his first Test at home showed he belongs at this level with a fine looking fifty in India’s second innings. Even though Rohit Sharma had a Test to forget with scores of 6 & 12, India are likely to stick with this opening partnership.

Interestingly, the second Test will be allowing fans in the ground, how much of a factor could this have on the game? Up to 15,000 fans are allowed in every day. That means about 15,000 passionate Indian fans cheering their team on. We know how effective home support is, this could be just what Virat Kohli needs to get back to winning ways.

Equaling Michael Vaughan’s record of 26 England wins, will Joe Root become the most successful England captain by winning the second Test, thus ensuring they cannot lose the series?

The first two Tests are played at the same ground in Chennai, and reports suggest the pitch for the second Test will offer more spin as early as the first day, and the dry conditions could result in low bounce. Batting is certain to be a challenge in this Test.

This is sure to be a riveting Test match, watch all the action as the Test starts on Saturday 13th February at 6am

 


 

IND vs. ENG – 1st Test Preview

England are fresh off a convincing win in Sri Lanka, but a new challenge awaits. A four-Test away series against India.

India meanwhile have returned home after completing a marvellous and quite honestly, miraculous series victory away from home against Australia, with essentially a second-string playing XI.

The trouble India find themselves in now is, who makes their playing XI for the first Test against England? Mohammed Siraj bowled his heart out and led a very inexperienced bowling attack in Australia with great pride and discipline. He surely must keep his place.

Regular captain, Virat Kohl is back after taking paternity leave for the birth of his first child, and this of course bolsters their batting, but questions have arisen on who should take the captaincy. Ajinkya Rahane proved just what a worthy captain he is, and how he led the players incredibly well. It’s great to lead a team that’s performing well and winning. But the true test of a captain is how they lead a team that’s down and out. That’s where Rahane thrived.

Neither team is the same as when they last met, five years ago, a series India comprehensively won 4-0. India no longer rely on just spin at home, they have found an excellent crop of young fast bowlers in Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini & Siraj himself. They also have found some exciting and talented young batsmen in Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant, who showed tremendous character, confidence and skill in Australia.

England on the other hand have Ben Stokes, who over the past five years has developed his game to become a mature and responsible player and one of the best all-rounders the game has at the moment. Ben Stokes can singlehandedly change the course of a match, with either the ball or bat in his hand. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood being express pace to the table, something England have been missing for a while.

England captain Joe Root is set to play his 100th Test, and is currently in the midst of possibly the best from of his career, scoring 426 runs at 106.5 in the recent series against Sri Lanka. Root’s experience of playing in India is priceless and his record in India is impressive, averaging 53 in the six Tests he has played there. His ability to play spin and bat long periods of time lays the foundation England build their innings around.

The MA Chidambaram Stadium is a fortress for India, having not lost a Test at this ground for the past 22 years. The last time they did lose was to arch-rivals, Pakistan in 1999. England, who have won 3 of their last six away series would do well to storm the fortress. Only time will tell if they can.

The first Test starts on Friday 5th February at 6am, with the toss at 5:30am.

 


 

PAK vs. SA – 2nd Test Preview

After succumbing to their 8th consecutive Test loss in the subcontinent, South Africa find themselves 1-0 down in the two-match series against Pakistan.

A valiant bowling effort from the Proteas, and gutsy batting from Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen aside, the Proteas batting fell into the same patterns we’ve come to know and dislike – batting collapses. Losing 7-87 in the first innings and 9-70 in the second is simply not good enough to win Test matches, and the quicker they come to this realisation, the better.

Captain Quinton de Kock, doesn’t know how to stop batting collapses from occurring, saying,

“if we knew how to fix them, we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

The answer is simple – have accountability and don’t throw your wickets away.

Dean Elgar admitted to exactly that after the Proteas first innings saying,

“there were a few very soft dismissals….if you apply yourself, there are no real demons in the wicket”

It is frustrating to listen to the same words being repeated after every Test, or series. Words are cheap. When are they going to practice what they preach?

Pakistan were the better team in the first Test, and fully deserved their win. But they find themselves with the problem South Africa themselves had for a number of years prior to Markram – solid openers. With a highest score of 26 in his last 6 Test innings, far below his Test average of 39, Abid Ali needs to start performing.

Pakistan could opt to change their opening partnership and bring in Kamran Ghulam for the second Test, who has been in great touch in domestic cricket. But after giving Imran Butt an opportunity, they would be best suited to give him a proper run in the team. Pakistan are therefore unlikely to change a winning team.

Enough words cannot be said to congratulate and admire the batting and attitude of Fawad Alam, who after a decade away from the team, has come back and harbors no resentment but instead is happy to just score runs for his country. Pakistan will be hopeful of more runs from him in the second Test.

One positive South Africa could look to capitalize on is the fact that Keshav Maharaj dismissed Babar Azam twice in the first Test – could Babar be Maharaj’s bunny, or was Babar just rusty after a lengthy injury break? There’s an important psychological component to Test cricket, and Babar will be well aware Maharaj has dismissed him twice already. it might be worth Maharaj being brought into the attack as soon as Babar comes to the crease in the second Test, and see what happens.

The one Test played at Rawalpindi in recent times was against Bangladesh in 2020, which saw Pakistan’s pace attack thrive. Pundits have also agreed that pace is more of a factor, thereby suggesting one spinner may be sufficient. To this end, South Africa could drop George Linde, who only bowled 16 overs in the first Test, compared to Maharaj’s 33, on a pitch that was offering spin, for Wiaan Mulder, and keep their 3-pronged pace attack of Rabada, Ngidi and Nortje. If they require another spin option, they could utilise Markram or Dean Elgar in this role, who even after the blow to his hand, is confident he’ll be fit for the second Test.

After seeing South Africa struggle against spin however, Pakistan will be hopeful the pitch does offer enough spin for their bowlers to capitalize on.

With the series on the line, this proves to be a must-watch game. The second Test starts on February 4th at 7am – live on SuperSport.