South Africa Blown Away in First Test

It was clear going into this series that brittle batting on both sides and quality pace attacks would result in games that were dictated by which side could withstand the other’s bowlers. With James Anderson ruled out prior to the game and Steven Finn coming back into the Test team after a period of absence, it would have been fair to say that the number one ranked side in the world held all the aces. One Test match down, the questions going into the second Test in Johannesburg will being asked by South Africa.

There is no doubt that losing a batch of players of the quality of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis would have a significant impact on the top order. The problem, highlighted in India but rationalised by the issues of playing on the sub-continent, has been only too apparent in Durban. Confidence is a key asset in top class cricket and it’s a characteristic that is plainly lacking in the top order.

Conversely, England appear to have hit the ground running and are full of it. Finn, a bowler who has suffered many mental problems as a result of run-up and technique changes, looked full of running and hit the deck hard throughout the Test. He has really bowled his way into the side at the expense of Chris Woakes, who should drop down to be replaced by Anderson for the next Test in Cape Town.

South Africa Blown Away by England

The big plus for England though is the success of Moeen Ali as the main spinner, having been released from his responsibilities of opening the batting. He took seven wickets in the match, bowled at a good pace to maximise the assistance offered by the wicket, and got 50 overs under his belt which bodes well for the rest of the series. He completely out-bowled Dane Piedt, despite his five second innings wickets, and supported by Jonny Bairstow’s important knocks in both innings at number seven, he was able to help England take a significant first innings lead and capitalise on this second time around.

Nick Compton’s return to Test cricket was also a resounding success. Compton is not someone to entertain the spectators, but his concentration, discipline and restraint was absolutely what England required at 12-2 in the first innings under helpful overhead conditions. There are already stroke players in the middle order in Joe Root and James Taylor, not to mention Stokes and Bairstow, and England need some glue to hold things together. Compton provides this and whilst he is not aesthetically pleasing, for now, he has the opportunity to nail down the number three spot.

Don’t forget that South Africa won that vital toss on the first morning and Steyn and Morkel had a real opportunity to set the tone for the whole Test series. One brilliant session from them and England would have been facing an early deficit and an uphill struggle. The value, therefore, of soaking up that first day, of denying the South African seamers the chance to get into the England middle order meant that on the second day, Bairstow’s got England up above 300 and put pressure on South Africa.

Managing to chalk up such a comprehensive victory without any contribution from Alex Hales means that his inauspicious debut can be papered over. Whether he is a long-term solution at the top of the order is questionable; only time will tell if his foot movement can adapt quickly enough to cope with the likes of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. However, the contributions from Root, Taylor, Compton and Bairstow mean that he will slide quietly into Cape Town looking for runs but without particular pressure to do so.

South Africa, on the other hand, are now in a spot of crisis. There are questions to answer at the top of the order, in the lower middle part of that order and the balance of the team with Piedt and Abbott in particular looking short of penetration. With only two days between Tests, there is a great opportunity for England to take the momentum and enter the New Year with a 2-0 lead.

Whether AB de Villiers continues with the gloves is debatable. His statistics suggest that this isn’t a limiting factor on his batting, but with van Zyl and Bavuma short on runs there will be discussion as to whether either or both keep their place. Quinton de Kock is a strong option to come in to keep wicket.

Steyn’s injury in the second innings of the Test means he is likely to miss out in Cape Town, a huge psychological advantage to England, doubled by the likely return of Anderson. The pressure will mount on Hashim Amla, as captain, and certainly his performances with the bat have suffered in recent times.

Expect changes from South Africa, with England making a single one to replace Woakes with Anderson.