England v South Africa Four Test Series (6 July – 8 August)

The much-anticipated England v South Africa Test series begins this Thursday at the home of cricket, Lord’s. It’s England’s first series under new skipper, Joe Root. Previous captain, Alastair Cook, stepped down after their 4-0 away loss to India. Meanwhile, South Africa has returned to second on the Test rankings after winning their last four series.

This shapes to be a great series from a cricket betting and watching perspective.

England

There has been much conjecture about England’s batting line-up. They have gone with Keaton Jennings to open up with Cook. Cook has over 11,000 Test runs, while Jennings has 167. Without the burden of captaincy, Cook can concentrate on his own game. He is a patient batsman who makes the bowler bowl to him. Jennings made a hundred on debut against India last year, but his recent first-class form has been underwhelming, averaging 15 with the bat.

Gary Ballance is back in the side and will bat at three. The Yorkshireman has been making plenty of county runs so he deserves his chance. Then it is Root and he is world-class. He averages nearly 53 at Test level and his scoring rate has significantly increased. He is the key to their middle order. Ben Stokes and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow round out the batting line-up. Stokes is a dependable all-rounder. His devastating 258 off 198 balls against South Africa last year was unbelievable. Unfortunately, his ongoing knee problems will limit his bowling.

Injuries to English bowlers have been all too common recently. Stuart Broad and James Anderson have led the attack for the best part of a decade but both have had interrupted preparations. They are important players as they swing the Duke ball and draw batsman into playing away from their body. Expect an English debutant or two to fill other positions throughout the series.

South Africa

South Africa’s preparations haven’t exactly been smooth either. Faf du Plessis has withdrawn from the first Test team following ‘the difficult nature of the delivery’ of his first child last week. He captains the side, bats at four, averages in the mid-40s and can occupy the crease for long periods so he’ll certainly be missed.

Veteran batsman Hashim Amla averages a tick under fifty and has previously feasted on the Poms. The 34 year-old’s performances have dropped in the past twelve months, but he is still a crucial wicket. South Africa has a few uncapped players in their squad, but only Heino Kuhn has been a confirmed starter. He will open up alongside the gritty Dean Elgar.

JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma complete their middle order and they are followed by the damaging Quinton de Kock. The wicketkeeper-batsman averages over 50 and at the impressive strike-rate of 71.59. He can finish off an innings or change the course of a game by producing rear-guard performances.

Even though strike bowler Vernon Philander missed the final warm-up game, he should play at Lord’s. He can move the ball through the air or off the seam. His accuracy is sublime and his bowling average of 22.40 could improve in English conditions. Young gun Kagiso Rabada and experienced tall Morne Morkel will probably start as the frontline pace options.

Form

The recent form line is slightly in England’s favour. They beat South Africa 2-1 in the preceding three-match One Day International series and T20 series. There is only so much you can take from the shorter formats of the game, especially with personnel changes, however, winning form is good form. South Africa has better recent Test results, even without the injured Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers, who is abstaining from Test cricket at the moment.

Winning away from home is always a tough ask. The high demands of all forms of the game means touring teams limit their preparation and the conditions are different all over the world. South Africa last played a Test in England in 2012. It was a successful campaign, but many of the current crop are not familiar with English conditions. The ball swings and moves for long periods, batsman’s techniques are constantly tested, and Broad and Anderson are great exponents of reverse swing.

What is in South Africa’s favour is a relatively settled line-up and healthy squad once du Plessis returns. There haven’t been too many changes throughout the last twelve months and players know their roles.

The final and possibly deciding factor is de Kock. If he gets going he can tear an attack apart and it effectively means South Africa has seven batsmen. On the other hand, if he can’t handle the moving ball, he leaves a huge gap in their line-up.

Cricket Betting: Series Winner Odds

England $1.57

South Africa $4.00

Draw $4.33

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