South Africa’s current tour of England has not gone to plan – Fact! Coupled with the disaster of yet another failed ICC event, a 2-1 loss in the one day internationals and T20 series under the captaincy of AB de Villiers, the Proteas have a chance to redeem themselves in the all-important four-match test series starting at Lord’s in London on Thursday 6 July.
Recent test series results have favoured the Proteas in recent times with the visitors having won the last two series in 2008 and 2012 while sharing the spoils in 2003. But England have their tales up at the moment and Faf du Plessis’ charges will need to stand tall if they are to make it three series from three attempts.
South Africa have reinstated themselves as one of the best test nations in the world under Faf du Plessis, with the Titans man winning seven of his 11 test matches as captain, losing just one and drawing three. The only loss that Du Plessis had to endure was the ‘pink-ball’ test in Adelaide against Australia, after the Proteas had already secured the three-match series by winning the first two games.
Du Plessis had gelled the side well after Hashim Amla had stepped down from the role and AB de Villiers suffering an injury in the first test against New Zealand a year ago. Du Plessis led the side to a 1-0 victory in the three-match series against the Black Caps, sealing the contest with a 204-run victory in Centurion. His big test arrived on the shores of Australia, having to fill the big shoes of former captain, Graeme Smith, who had secured series wins in 2008 and 2012.
Du Plessis did not have a good series with the bat but rallied his teammates to good effect as they beat Australia by 177 runs in Perth and then by an innings and 80 runs in Hobart. A 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka followed at home with another 1-0 series victory over the Black Caps in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
But Du Plessis’ absence in the first test at Lord’s will sorely be missed due to the birth of his child with opener Dean Elgar set to take the reins.
Lord’s – Happy hunting ground
Since readmission to international cricket, South Africa have yet to taste defeat at the iconic London venue, having won four out of five test matches played to date. South Africa’s biggest victory was attained in 2003 when they thumped the home side by an innings and 92 runs with Smith making 259 in nine and a half hours at the crease as the Proteas amassed 682 for six declared in the first innings in reply to England’s 173 all out.
Makaya Ntini was the star with the ball, claiming 10 wickets in the match while Gary Kirsten (108) and Boeta Dippenaar (92) contributed with the bat. Mark Boucher was giving some freedom at the back-end of South Africa’s innings with Smith looking for quick runs, as the wicketkeeper smashed 68 runs from just 51 deliveries with 12 boundaries and a six.
But the Proteas’ most famous victory at the ground, which is the venue for the first test, came in 2012 when they secured a 51-run victory to seal their second consecutive series victory on English soil. With South Africa leading the three-match series 1-0, England required 346 runs to win the match and square the series but Vernon Philander led the charge, claiming 5-30 to help bowl England out for 294.
After conceding a six-run deficit on the first innings, Amla anchored the South African second innings with a 287-minute 121 as the Proteas were bowled out for 351. But Philander knocked over Andrew Strauss (1), Alastair Cook (3) and Ian Bell (4) to leave the hosts in a pickle on 45 for four after 26 overs and the inventors of the game were unable to recover from there.
Trent Bridge – A bridge too far
Nottingham conjures up images of Robin Hood and his band of merry men battling the evil Sheriff of Nottingham where the infamous archer captures the hand of Maid Marion but for the Proteas, the city in the East Midlands is far from a story with a happy ending.
South Africa have not recorded a victory at Trent Bridge since 1965 when Peter van der Merwe led his side to a 94-run win, thanks mainly to the Pollock brothers. Graeme Pollock scored 125 and 59 while Peter claimed match figures of 10-87. But their last two attempts, in 1998 and 2003 resulted in an eight-wicket and 70-run defeat respectively.
In their last visit, Mark Butcher (106) and Nasser Hussain (116) scored centuries as England posted 445 while Andrew Hall claimed 3-88. In reply, South Africa were bowled out for 362 with Neil McKenzie, batting at six, scoring 90 and Shaun Pollock making 62.
Pollock came out firing with the ball in the second innings as England were routed for just 118, leaving the Proteas needing just 202 for victory and a possible 2-0 lead in the five-match series but James Kirtley had other ideas, claiming 6-34 in 16.2 overs as South Africa were bundled out for 131.
The Oval – Times are changing
Fourteen visits, seven stalemates and six defeats! These were the results for the Proteas since their first test match at the ground in Kennington 110 years ago but their last visit in 2012 broke that cycle. Their visit in mid-July 2012 was a special one, picking up their first victory at the ground which is across the Thames from Lord’s.
Jacques Kallis and Amla posted the second-highest 3rd-wicket stand for South Africa, notching up an unbeaten 377 as South Africa smashed 637 for two declared in reply to England’s first innings total of 385 all out. The Proteas had lost Alviro Petersen (0) with the total on one but Smith (131) and Amla added 259 for the second wicket as England toiled in search of wickets.
Amla’s innings of 311 not out is still the only triple century by a South African and included 35 boundaries in 790 minutes. Dale Steyn, bowling at first-change, then claimed 5-56 as England were bowled out for 240 to hand the Proteas an innings and 12-run victory which gave South Africa a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Old Trafford – Time to come home
The fourth and final test match takes place at Old Trafford in Manchester, just 500m, as the crow flies, from the iconic football stadium that is home to Manchester United and just 1km away from the river Irwell.
South Africa’s only post-isolation test at the ground was back in 1998 which produced one of the most exciting finishes between the countries. South Africa had chosen to bat first and with Kirsten scoring 210, his first of three double-centuries, with support from Kallis (132), the Proteas declared their first innings on 552 for five. Paul Adams was on song with his unorthodox spin action as he claimed 4-63 in England’s reply of 183 all out.
After being asked to follow on, England were reduced to 11 for two with Nick Knight (1) and Hussain (5) back in the hut. But Mike Atherton (89) and Alec Stewart (164) added 226 for the third wicket before collapsing to 296 for six as Allan Donald (6-88) ripped through the middle order.
But a herculean effort from Robert Croft and some steely defense from Angus Fraser helped England salvage a draw with the hosts on 369 for nine when the match ended. Croft spent just over three hours at the crease while Fraser held out for 22 minutes without scoring a run to frustrate the efforts of Donald, Kallis (2-71) and Adams (1-90).
Heino Kuhn’s inclusion at the top of the order ahead of Stephen Cook is a breath of fresh air in the Proteas batting line up. Kuhn, who has a first class average of 45.10 and a highest score of 244 not out, will be champing at the bit to make his long-awaited test debut.
The right-handed opener has been in good form of late, scoring 200 not out against Hampshire for South Africa ‘A’ and 105 against the England Lions as well as an unbeaten 80 in the warm-up game for the Proteas against the Lions. Kuhn also offers the Proteas a backup option in the wicketkeeping department should a problem occur with regular stalwart, Quinton de Kock.
De Kock’s inclusion in the test side has been phenomenal, with the 24-year old averaging an impressive 51.26 batting at Number 7. In 30 innings at the crease, the wicketkeeper has struck three centuries and nine fifties. De Kock could have increased his century-column to five had he not fallen for 91 and 90 respectively against New Zealand in Wellington and Hamilton.
With De Villiers not making himself available for selection for this series, some Proteas fans will feel that the side might be short of experience in the top-order as the South African ODI captain averages 50.46 with the bat which includes 21 centuries and 39 half centuries. But De Villiers, who can take the game away from any team on any given day, has not played a test for South Africa since the fourth test against England at Centurion in January 2016. It was also the first time in his test career that he suffered a pair, facing just eight balls in his two innings without scoring.
Who will win?
South Africa will be fortunate that the first test is being played at their most successful English venue – Lord’s – and despite the fact that Du Plessis will in all likely hood not be at the helm, the Proteas might just come out on top. With Trent Bridge looming just over the horizon and a probable England victory, the third test at The Oval might give the Proteas a chance to retake the lead in the series or make the series safe depending on the Nottingham result.
So the final test at Old Trafford will more than likely come down to a winner-take-all scenario. And if the South African’s have their tales up after The Oval showdown, expect Du Plessis’ men to go for the throat and aim for their third consecutive series win on English soil.
My pick – South Africa to win it 2-1.