England vs South Africa: First Test Preview

The English Test summer gets underway on Thursday as England take on South Africa at Lord’s – Joe Root’s first Test as permanent England captain.

The decision to hand Root the captaincy, succeeding Alastair Cook, was met with apprehension given the Yorkshire man’s lack of captaincy experience. However, as England look to move forward ahead of this winter’s Ashes, Root and the ECB staff have promised continue their bold, positive approach to Test cricket, something that has certainly been evident in recent times.

Root’s first Test will be against an under-strength, yet still formidable South African side, who have been hit by the news that captain and middle-order batsman Faf Du Plessis will miss the first Test in order to spend some more time with his wife in South Africa after a “difficult” birth of the pair’s first child.

Dean Elgar will captain the side and while he and Hashim Amla will look to lead the batting, it is South Africa’s pace attack that should pose the biggest threat. Even without talisman Dale Steyn, the visitors have an excellent exponent of new ball conditions in Vernon Philander, the speed and energy of Kagiso Rabada and a man with over 250 Test wickets in Morne Morkel.

For England, this series represents a chance to build momentum in Test cricket again after a woeful winter in India, where they lost 4-0 and failed to adapt to the subcontinental conditions. Following an extended period of ODI cricket, Tests will now come thick and fast and Root and his side will want a solid start in order to settle the nerves.

Watch Out For:

Alastair Cook

While the attention will rightly be on the returning Gary Ballance, it will be interesting to see how quickly Cook settles back into Test cricket following a difficult winter resulting in the end of his long reign as captain. The signs are good, though, with the left-hander scoring 667 runs in Division One this season for Essex at an average of 66.70, including a recent 193 against champions Middlesex.

Cook has been working hard in the nets with Gary Palmer, the freelance batting coach he has used for over two years, and looks to be hitting strongly through the ‘V’ – a supposed weaker area of his game. When Cook is in the runs, England tend to do rather well and a good start for him and the team will be just what’s required.

Quinton De Kock

In Du Plessis’s absence, much will depend on Elgar and Amla to provide the solid foundations. Yet if there is to be one real danger man in this South African batting line-up, it is likely to be De Kock. The wicket-keeper has taken to the number seven role by storm, not only giving South Africa added impetus to their innings but also rescuing them from perilous situations in recent times.

De Kock has been likened to the legendary Adam Gilchrist in his ability to take the game away from an opposition in quick time through his flashy strokeplay, and his presence in the lower middle order will be crucial to South Africa making substantial scores. If he can do so, then it will give the visitors’ dangerous seam attack plenty to work with.

Team News 

Gary Ballance will return to the England side looking to right the wrongs of his previous stints in the No.3 slot. On a Lord’s pitch likely to turn later on in the match, Liam Dawson is expected to pip Toby Roland-Jones in the XI and bat at number eight, forming a two-pronged spin attack with Moeen Ali – the first time England have done so in a Test at Lord’s since 1993.

England Likely XI 

  1. Alastair Cook
  2. Keaton Jennings
  3. Gary Ballance
  4. Joe Root (c)
  5. Jonny Bairstow (wk)
  6. Ben Stokes
  7. Moeen Ali
  8. Liam Dawson
  9. Stuart Broad
  10. Mark Wood
  11. James Anderson

For South Africa, Dean Elgar captains the side in Du Plessis’ absence, with one of Heino Kuhn or Aiden Markram set to partner him. Theunis de Bruyn is will also come in, filling the void left by Du Plessis at No.5. Keshav Maharaj is expected to be the main spin option, backing up the visitors’ three seamers.

South Africa Likely XI

  1. Dean Elgar (c)
  2. Heino Kuhn / Aiden Markram
  3. Hashim Amla
  4. JP Duminy
  5. Theunis de Bruyn
  6. Temba Bavuma
  7. Quinton De Kock (c)
  8. Vernon Philander
  9. Keshav Maharaj
  10. Kagiso Rabada
  11. Morne Morkel


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