By Karthik Parimal
This clash between the top two Test teams in the world could possibly be one of the most exciting contests ever. Separated by just a point, the South Africans will undoubtedly give their best shot to attain supremacy in the Test arena when they face a full-strength English side in less than a month’s time from now. On the other hand, England will finally meet its match at home, but they’ve got the ammunition to overcome any challenge presented to them. There are many reasons why this series could be an absolute cliff-hanger, and this article focuses on a few of them.
World class batsmen
Three of England’s batsmen feature among the top ten run-getters in Test cricket in the last one year. Alistair Cook, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen have accumulated 1230, 1191 and 1191 runs respectively at an average of 53.47, 66.16 and 54.13 since last April. Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss are not far behind either. Not many South Africans feature in that list, mainly because they haven’t been playing a lot of Tests post the 2011 World Cup.
They’ve played just eight Tests since then, having won four, lost two and drawn two. Nevertheless, they’ve got batsmen the calibre of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, who can be a thorn in the flesh of any opposition.
Two of the best bowling attacks
Without a shadow of a doubt, England and South Africa can currently boast of having the best bowling line-ups in the world. Three of England’s bowlers feature among the top ten wicket-takers in the Test arena since the last two years. James Anderson, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad have picked 102, 97 and 78 wickets respectively since June 2010. In fact, Anderson and Swann top the list. South Africa’s Dale Steyn too features in that list, with Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander occupying the thirteenth and fourteenth positions respectively.
Philander recently won the South Africa Cricketer of the Year award, and that speaks volumes of his bowling exploits in such a short period of time.
The South African bowlers are capable of compensating for the rare mishaps that occur in their batting department, and this was evident in a Test against Australia during which these bowlers dismissed the visitor’s formidable batting line-up for a paltry total of just 47, after the home team first failed to perform with the bat.
Jacques Kallis has been around for a long time and his experience will be a huge asset during this series. He has performed consistently with the bat as well as the ball, and one should expect no less from him this time around. Jean Paul Duminy is another all-rounder who could add a lot of value to this South African unit. He is a fair bet with the bat and his off-breaks are decent enough. Apart from Imran Tahir, Duminy too could turn a few balls if needed.
As if England’s top and middle-order batsmen weren’t destructive enough, they’ve got some classy all-rounders like Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan at the lower end of the line-up capable of inflicting similar damage. Broad’s heroics came to light during the second Test against India a year ago where he scored a quick 64 in the first innings and followed it up with a 44 alongside Bresnan’s 90 during the second innings.
Recently, Broad scored a scintillating 169 and 58 against Pakistan at the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This proves that no opposition can take the English batting line-up for granted.
Irrespective of any reasons, one saw how frequently India’s opening combination was subjected to change when they toured England a year ago. Since India is a side that depends heavily on its openers, this shuffling did cause instability in their line-up, and hence the team never looked settled. The same was the case with West Indies’ unestablished openers during the recent series. England never really faced a complete unit at home on their road to supremacy.
The South Africans, however, will have no such issues. They have well established openers and a settled middle-order that will pose a threat to any opposition. England too has a stable batting unit and each one of them have well-defined roles and responsibilities. It will be interesting to see how these two teams approach each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
The No 1 factor
As mentioned earlier, these two teams are separated at the top with a difference of just one rating point. The South Africans will be hungry to claim the top spot, considering the fact that they’ve performed fairly well since the last few years. On the other hand, England will want to silence its critics with a big win over a formidable side like South Africa. No further questions will be raised if they manage to topple a top opposition like them and still retain the No.1 ranking at the end of this series. They definitely have the firepower to do it, but it would be a huge mistake to take the current and hungry World No 2 lightly.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)