TOM SIZELAND examines the visitors ahead of the third Test between South Africa and England in Johannesburg.
The last three days of the second Test at Newlands would have been a bit of a wake-up call to the English. They were cruising up until that point, before a number of snags means they will go into the third Test with their confidence somewhat dented. England bowled relatively well on a pitch that offered very little, but numerous dropped catches and missed chances let them down and left them feeling that things could have been very different. They also exposed their vulnerability when things get tight, as they lost six wickets on day five. If the Proteas can get on top early in the match, England might struggle to pick themselves up.
3, 13, 55, 17 – those are the opening stands between Alastair Cook and Alex Hales so far in the series, which will start to become a real concern if they don’t improve in the third encounter. Of even more concern, is that Cook has been the one responsible. The skipper has fallen before his inexperienced partner on each occasion. Hales showed promise with his 60 in the first innings in Cape Town, but really needs the man with 124 Test caps to be there at the other end to stem the pressure and allow the attacking Hales to play his natural game.
Something that gives England an advantage over the Proteas going into every Test at the moment is the balance they have to their side, and the luxury of not having to change their side. With Steven Finn and James Anderson back to full fitness, there are no injury concerns going into the Wanderers, while the Proteas have sweated on Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn throughout. Will the Proteas bring in a fourth seamer, and will they compensate for that with the inclusion of Duminy? England don’t have that issue, as Ben Stokes already provides that fourth seam option, and Moeen Ali’s handy off-spin goes with his more-than-capable lower-order batting.
I mentioned before the second Test that Joe Root is a frustrated lad, and this has only intensified. Of all the problems to have, failing to convert 50s into 100s is a nice one, but Root continues to lose his wicket in a similar manner. Since scoring 130 against Australia in the fourth Ashes Test, he’s made five fifties, before flaying at a wide one and finding the edge on each occasion. The disappointment is evident every time. Thanks to England’s much-improved middle order, they’ve coped without the big knocks from Cook and Root, but they need a big one from Root, even if it’s just to end the self-inflicted frustration.
Recent history at the intimidating atmosphere that is the Bullring suggests that this match could be decided by the pace bowlers. South Africa have enjoyed huge innings victories in two of the last three Tests against England here. Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock combined for 19 of the 20 wickets in 1999, before Steyn and Morne Morkel took 14 of them in 2010. England have the more settled pace attack, but they will be wary of relatively unknown entities in Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada and potentially Hardus Viljoen. Should Kyle Abbott get the nod, he will hope to draw inspiration from the swing that allowed Matthew Hoggard to rip apart the Proteas in 2005.