England must pick up the pace
As South Africa aim for a third successive Test series victory on English soil, Roderick Easdale suggests that more punchy tactics are needed from England’s new captain
Roderick Easdale argues that more punchy tactics are needed from England’s new captain
The last two home Test series against South Africa brought about the resignation of a long-standing england captain, but it won’t happen this time. The previous incumbent, Alastair Cook, had a poor winter as skipper; not being tactically adept at deploying spinners, seven winter Tests on the subcontinent on pitches where spin tends to be key were always going to be a trial for him.
With his time as captain coming to a close, Cook’s best options for calling it a day were either to resign at the end of last summer or to continue to this winter’s Ashes. In aiming for the second, he ended up doing neither, damaging a captaincy record that, after one win and six defeats last winter, stands at 24 wins, 22 defeats, eight series won, four lost.
It doesn’t appear to have affected his batting, however—cook averaged 47 in 59 Tests as captain; when not captain, his average is 46. he will return to the ranks happily; captaincy was a duty he embraced rather than a burning desire. Anyway, most england captains have continued in the team—only five in the past 40 years haven’t, two of whom were retiring from the sport anyway.
New captain Joe Root now has the fourtest series with South Africa, which starts tomorrow at Lord’s, and a three-match one with the West Indies to mould his team before this winter’s Ashes. As a more aggressive person than Cook, he will be a forceful tactician.
Like Cook when he ascended to the captaincy, Root is the side’s best batsman. Some—notably his former england team-mate Graeme Swann—have questioned whether the side’s main run-scorer should be burdened with the captaincy at the relatively young age of 26, but the world’s four best batsmen —Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steven Smith are the others—now captain their Test sides. The other three took over at a slightly younger age than Root and all have batted even better since.
South African A. B. de Villiers, 33, would once have been included in this list, but he last played Test cricket in January 2016. he captained the one-day and T20 teams on this tour of england, but has opted out of the Test matches. After 106 games, the allure of Test cricket has faded for him and his international motivation is now to win the 2019 World Cup in england.
‘As Root is a more aggressive person than Cook, he will be a forceful tactician
Without him, the tourists’ batting looks weak. hashim Amla will provide the main experience, but the 103-Test veteran has struggled overseas recently. Since August 2014, he’s played 12 home Tests and averaged 64, but, in 13 away Tests, his average is 20.
Much may depend upon the form of captain Faf du Plessis and 24-year-old wicket-keeper batsman Quinton de Kock if South Africa are to compile compelling totals in the series. Du Plessis, who has missed part of the tour due to his wife expecting their first child, will be keen that the second-highest-ranked Test side in the world (behind India) salvages something from a disappointing tour thus far.
The tourists lost both the one-day and T20 series against england and came up short in the Champions Trophy, where, despite being the top-ranked side, they failed to qualify for the semi-finals.
The long-term leader of the pace attack, Dale Steyn, is also missing with a shoulder injury, which means that the bowling will be spearheaded by the exciting Kagiso Rabada, supported by veteran Morne Morkel and the all too easily under-rated Vernon Philander. Despite being just 22, and with only 17 Tests behind him, Rabada is probably the best pace bowler in the world at present.
however, a schedule of four Tests in less than five weeks will be demanding on all the pace bowlers. With both teams being stronger in bowling than batting, victory in the series may ultimately come down to whose pace attack remains the fittest and freshest.
Kagiso Rabada may only be 22, but he has the speed and the guile to trouble England’s batsmen this summer