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

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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

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