Inconsistency has been an issue for Alastair Cook’s England in recent times, but there are signs his side are maturing and they still look the bet to heap further misery on a South African side in turmoil. We were with Cook’s men in Durban because it is a venue which has been a happy hunting ground in recent tours, however the second Test in Cape Town sees the visitors travel to a South African stronghold where they are rarely beaten.
Since re-admittance, South Africa has won three of the four Tests against England staged at Newlands and the only reason it isn’t a perfect four was down to a terrific final-day rearguard from Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood on the 2009/10 tour.
However, that South African side, captained by the indomitable Graham Smith, also featured Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Price and Mark Boucher in its ranks whereas the current team, beset by injury and unrest, look increasingly vulnerable to a fit, hungry and motivated England.
Dale Steyn is a huge doubt for the hosts with a shoulder injury and a weakened bowling attack – there is currently no Vernon Philander – could be further destabilised by the news Kyle Abbott is struggling with a tight left hamstring.
Uncapped Hardus Viljoen has been called up as cover for Abbott with 20-year-old Kagiso Rabada likely to play instead of Steyn, who is the talisman and leader of the attack and a huge loss if declared unfit as seems likely.
Contrast that with England who could welcome James Anderson back into the fold in place of Chris Woakes. The Lancastrian took eight wickets at Newlands on the last tour and would be another huge psychological fillip if thought to be fully recovered from a groin strain.
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The South African think-tank has put great emphasis on their ability to take 20 wickets and that might be the case, but England blew the hosts away by 241 runs at Durban, despite their two gun batsmen Cook and Joe Root contributing just 104 between them.
Nick Compton, James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow all weighed in with sizeable contributions and built important stands while their counterparts folded tamely under pressure.
The 38 runs added by South Africa’s last six wickets in the second innings represented their third-worst collapse since their readmission to Test cricket and they also failed to register a century stand in any of their eight 2015 Tests, a damming indictment of their batting.
Captain Hashim Amla is carrying the captaincy like I would Big Daddy while the decision to make AB de Villiers keep wicket has only served to de-motivate one of the finest batters in the game.
Since their return to Tests, South Africa may not have lost a Test to anyone other than Australia at Newlands (against other sides their win-loss ratio is 17-0) but that record could come under-fire this week.
At 13-10 England are very fairly priced given their Durban domination and the fact Newlands hasn’t hosted a draw since 2012.
In the individual markets, Moeen Ali landed the top bowling honours for us at Durban and, with recent temperatures reaching 40 degrees in Cape Town and, with the prospect of another dry surface, he can still be backed at 5-1 with Ladbrokes.
Morne Morkel led the South African attack brilliantly at Durban and rates a wager at 9-4 with the same firm.
Joe Root batted beautifully in the First Test without totally cashing in but he could rectify that failing this time round, while de Villiers could top the South African honours with the bat given he is likely to be relieved of the wicket-keeping duties.