For the second time in as many years England go into the sixth Test of a summer knowing that a win will secure the number one spot. The pressure is much higher this time, however, as unlike against India there is no room for error. England have had a poor 2012, a fairly poor series and the preparation for this last Test has been far from ideal.
This crucial Test is also Andrew Strauss’ hundredth. Unfortunately this has largely been overshadowed by the Pietersen saga, but Strauss has handled himself extremely well and his comments on the matter of been a welcome oasis of level-headedness. Whilst England will miss Pietersen in that he is a talented batsmen, the increase in team unity should not be underestimated and nor should the benefit of having that distraction at least taken out of sight. It will leave the batting weakened, but it is important to remember that Pietersen has failed when the team needs him at least as often as he has played the sort of brilliant hundred we saw at Headingley. The batting is weakened, but not to the extent many seem to believe. England’s rise to the top of the Test ranking was built off team efforts and it is to this which they will be trying to return in their effort to stay there.
England will need their batsmen to fire, but they actually have a very good record batting at Lord’s and for all the talk about the batting I expect the key will be the bowling. England’s attack did much better at Headingley than they did at the Oval, but they won’t get a lot of help from the Lord’s surface. Despite effectively doing so at Headingley, England are unlikely to play five bowlers at Lord’s so at least one of Tim Bresnan or Steven Finn will miss out. But as I’ve said before I would actually drop them both and play Graham Onions who will likely be better suited to the conditions. Whoever is named in the XI tomorrow morning, however, they will all need to perform. England do not want to rely on Stuart Broad finding his length in a devastating spell as happened at Headingley.
South Africa meantime have little about which to worry. They will have no doubt enjoyed watching the Pietersen furore and although the Headingley match was probably closer than they might have liked they have the confidence of knowing that their plans have worked so far. There seems little chance of a change from the last Test; the only possibility was that Petersen might miss out with his hamstring injury but he has come up well. This will also be an important Test for Graeme Smith as he will tie Allan Border’s record of most Tests as captain.
The Lord’s pitch tends to flatten out at the match goes on and the rumour is that it is more green than usual to start this time so it might be a decent one on which to bowl first. The weather forecast is also for overcast conditions on the first day, which usually plays a big role at Lord’s. Strauss got a lot of flak for bowling first at Headingley, but it actually proved to be a decent decision. This must be weighed against the fact that the last time South Africa toured a very similar logic led to South Africa bowling first and conceding over 500. In the end, it might be an excellent toss to lose. I think this game will be one of steady partnerships and will probably be decided by whose bowlers can best instigate a collapse. England will have the confidence of having done so at Headingley, but still have a very formidable South African top order with which to contend.
2 thoughts on “Eng v SA third Test preview”
I don’t understand the “team unity” obsession – cricket is a team sport played by a collection of individuals. As professionals a disruptive influence shouldn’t be the huge issue it has been made out to be. That said, I hope England score plenty and Strauss gets a few journos finally get back to cricket – not a soap opera..
I think it’s probably not a /huge/ deal, but that sort of disruption is a mental one and that will have a bigger effect in cricket than most other sports. And in a series against good opposition everything becomes magnified. Strauss was talking about the seeming relief of the players without Pietersen and I think that’s important; relaxed players are going to prepare and play better.