England will play South Africa in the first of three tests (the others are being staged at Old Trafford and The Oval) at Lord’s, starting on Wednesday, August 17th. The match is scheduled to begin at 11 am local time.
This is an important series for South Africa as they bid to reach the final of the World Test Championships (which will also be played at Lord’s next June) for the first time. They currently top the standings with a 71.45% win rate from matches played, just ahead of Australia. With Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and West Indies all still theoretically in with a chance of deposing them, they need a good showing in this series to shore up their position.
England’s hopes of appearing in the showcase match next year disappeared long ago. For them it is all about building for the future now under new head coach Brendon McCullum and Test captain Ben Stokes.
Certainly their regime began well. They produced a fine final day batting display to beat India in the Fifth Test at Edgbaston, a match held over from last year after an outbreak of Covid in the Indian camp.
Then they produced a brand of aggressive cricket that has become known as “Bazball” to defeat New Zealand in their three-match Test series.
Head to head
History very much favours the home side. 37 Test series have been played between the two countries since 1888, and South Africa have only won nine of them, with five series drawn. South Africa last won in England in 2012, whilst the English have won the last three series, home and away.
English optimism has faded
However, much of the optimism that engendered around English cricket has since faded with the travails of their white ball teams.
They lost to India in both their T20I and ODI series, and, having drawn the ODI series with the South Africans, they also finished on the wrong side of the T20I series to the Proteas. Meanwhile, Stokes, the man whose Player of the Match performance helped them to World Cup success in 2019, has quit ODI cricket, citing the scheduling and excessive workload. A series of good performances will help lift morale again.
South Africa have suffered a blow with the news that fast bowler Duanne Olivier has been ruled out of the entire series with a hip injury, and has returned home after suffering the muscle tear during a warm-up match against the England lions at Canterbury.
However, opener Sarel Erwee could be in line to make his debut, just two years after he was on the verge of quitting the sport altogether, due to off the field issues in his personal life.
England have recalled medium fast bowler Ollie Robinson, who missed the earlier tests due to injury. He could compete with Matthew Potts for a place in England’s bowling attack, which is likely to be led by Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, both of whom will be looking to add to their statistics which rank them among the most successful test bowlers of all time.
The UK has been enjoying another prolonged spell of hot weather but it is not forecast to last for the duration of this match. Instead several days should see rain, and there is the threat that a number of overs could be lost.
Playing at Lord’s over the years has often been a hindrance to the home team, and there is a tradition of the visitors taking inspiration from appearing at the “home of cricket”. Having partially dispelled that myth by beating the Kiwis, Stokes would like to confine this record to the history books for once and all.
Recently the pitch has not favoured batters and has tended to favour the bowlers, although those new to the ground can take a little time to get used to the famous Lord’s slope.
Despite South Africa’s win in the T20I series, this is a different format of the game, and one in which England are playing with a new-found confidence. They have the benefit of home condition. And the knowledge that when these two sides meet in Test cricket they tend to have the better of things.
It is likely to be highly competitive – South Africa want to maintain their WTC aspirations, but England will start as favourites.
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