TOM SIZELAND examines the visitors ahead of the second Test between South Africa and England in Cape Town.
JUST HOW GOOD ARE THEY?
England coach Trevor Bayliss said that his side have ‘a long way to go’ to find the consistency and performances needed to move up the Test rankings. While it might have appeared the complete performance by England in the first Test, they have yet to prove that they can do that over a sustained period. In 2015, they only won six of their 14 Tests, losing six and drawing two. Skipper Alastair Cook has warned against complacency in the Newlands Test. The Test rankings have become fickle of late, but it’s still No 1 against No 6, and England haven’t won in Cape Town since 1957.
This is an area that troubled England throughout 2015, as they relied heavily on Cook and Joe Root for runs. England would have been delighted, then, to have rectified this to a certain extent in Durban. Nick Compton looked at home at No 3, James Taylor’s wicket has become a valuable one at No 5, and Jonny Bairstow impressed in both innings. This is where the issue of consistency comes in. Compton, Taylor and Bairstow need to continue to show that they are Test-quality batsmen and take the pressure off Cook and Root. England would prefer to avoid calling on Gary Ballance and Jos Buttler if they can.
This is what might just separate England from the Proteas in the second Test. James Anderson looks set to return from his injury, Stuart Broad says he’s only getting better, and Steven Finn certainly is only getting better. This is a powerful pace triumvirate, yet it was off-spinner Moeen Ali who got Man of the Match. Fourth seamer Ben Stokes is far from the finished article himself. The Proteas have been desperately unfortunate, with Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott all on the sidelines. Can Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Dane Piedt and Chris Morris/Hardus Viljoen match the English? It’s a tall ask.
43 runs between Cook and Alex Hales throughout the match is only a minor concern for the time being, but if they fail to put together a meaningful partnership in the second rubber, the pressure will grow on them. Hales looked uncertain outside off in the first innings, and his one-day mindset got the better of him with a loose shot in the second. He’s only got two days to rectify these weaknesses. Cook’s form isn’t of any concern just yet, but he has to hang around longer to give the inexperienced Hales a bit of protection.
It would be harsh to criticise Joe Root, who was immense in 2015, beating Kevin Pietersen’s record in 2006 for the most international runs ever scored by an Englishman. But is he starting to get a bit frustrated? Bayliss said that ‘the very best teams that get to the No 1 position in the world have one or two guys that will make 130.’ Since the fourth Ashes Test, Root has passed 70 on four occasions, but has failed to push on. The frustration has been visible every time, and you can understand why, as nine of his last 11 dismissals have been edges to the wicketkeeper or slips, as he tends to flash at full, wide deliveries. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year nomination snub probably touched a nerve, too.