JON CARDINELLI examines the hosts ahead of the first Test between South Africa and England in Durban.
CONDITIONS AT KINGSMEAD
Many South African fans are still fuming over the Nagpur pitch debacle which marred the third Test between India and South Africa last month. Earlier this week, the ICC agreed with match referee Jeff Crowe’s findings and gave the Jamtha Stadium in Nagpur an official warning.
Of course, the latest sanction would have done nothing to calm angry Proteas supporters. Some have suggested that South Africa should respond by preparing pitches to suit their fast bowlers. However, in the context of the coming series against England, the groundsmen will need to be wary of the fact that England possess a dangerous pace attack. There should also be a drive to ensure more contests go to the fifth day.
All that said, it will be interesting to see what the captains will do at the toss on day one. According to weather reports, there’s a 70% chance of rain in Durban on Saturday. Will the winner of the toss look to bowl first and capitalise on overcast conditions, or will they back their team to weather the literal and figurative storm by batting first and making a statement early in the series?
STEYN MUST FIRE
There have been so many questions around Dale Steyn these past few weeks. He has been cleared to play at Kingsmead, but will he be at his physical best? Will we see the characteristic intensity, the ‘crazy-eye’ spells that so often swing a match in South Africa’s favour?
If Steyn brings the heat, you can bet on the likes of Morné Morkel and Kagiso Rabada following suit. There’s been talk of Dane Piedt cracking the nod ahead of Kyle Abbott for this fixture, but surely South Africa have to play to their fast bowling strengths in the first game of a big series? The Proteas should have two spin-bowling options in JP Duminy and Dean Elgar at their disposal.
AMLA’S TACTICAL TEST
Hashim Amla is due some runs, and due to win a toss. In the field, he will be under pressure to get things right and improve on a disappointing display in India.
While the conditions in South Africa will be more familiar, there will be times in the coming series where the Proteas are put under pressure by the England batsmen. How Amla responds in those trying situations will be key. Will we see something different in terms of tactics, something more aggressive than what was witnessed in India? The game at Kingsmead represents an opportunity for Amla to make a statement.
SENIORS MUST STAND UP
After the Proteas beat England in England three years ago to claim the No 1 Test ranking, then-coach Gary Kirsten hailed the team’s performances under pressure. Kirsten felt that the hallmark of any successful team was their collective ability to prevail in pressure situations. Absorb the pressure, and then exert your own.
Of course, the Proteas have lost a significant amount of experience since that series victory in England. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis have retired, and their absence has left the team light on grit and determination.
The current core of senior players – namely AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Steyn, and Morkel – must show their captain the necessary support. The coming series against England will be as much a battle of wills as a physical challenge. It’s crucial that the Proteas strike an early mental blow at Kingsmead.
AB’S BURDEN TO BEAR
AB de Villiers will stand at wicketkeeper, at least for the first two Tests of this series. The decision has been made despite De Villiers’s existing back injury. The decision will benefit the team in the sense that the exclusion of a specialist (like Quinton de Kock or Dane Vilas) will allow the Proteas to bolster their lineup with an extra batsman or bowler.
However, the decision is a gamble if one considers how the wicketkeeping duties may exacerbate De Villiers’s ailment. The last thing the Proteas need is for their best batsman – indeed, the one batsman who was in any sort of form in the recent series against India – to break down at an early stage of this crucial series against England.