Thursday, July 19, 2012

Seamer's Paradise

Such is the much mooted battle of the two best seam attacks in the world when England versus South Africa kicks off later today.

Undoubtedly there is a glittering array of bowling talent on show in particular. With England's seam friendly conditions to the fore, we should expect three - weather permitting - tests with a positive result.

For South Africa, Dale Steyn will spearhead the attack backed up by the fresh Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. Steyn as ever will be a combination of speed, accuracy and hostility. Morkel looks a little short of form right now but no doubt more overs will improve his rhythm.

Philander is the interesting one and could be the joker in the pack for South Africa. He makes up for a lack of pace with a nagging line and length and his short test career has been exceptional so far. The first test will do much to shape how he matches up against England's batsmen.

England's seam attack is much lauded and rightly so. In recent home series they have been simply able to bully the opposition much as they did against an undercooked India last Summer. Quality and variety abounds as well as strength in depth with huge competition for places meaning that Steve Finn will be left again drumming his fingers for the first test.

The area of spin is one where England have a definite advantage with Graeme Swann lining up against the as yet unproven Imran Tahir. Even in conditions that should see seam attacks dominate, Swann's ability to hold down one end giving his quicks some respite and his knack of taking key wickets could prove decisive.

Both batting line ups contain undoubted quality with batsmen capable of dominating attacks. Much has been made of the bowling attacks but with run scoring at a premium, it may be the form of the batsmen that is key.

The likes of Smith, Duminy and Amla will have to play well with AB de Villiers being given the added workload of keeping wicket. For Smith in particular it will be a chance to prove once and for all that he is a fine South African captain, if he can lead from the front it would be a huge fillip for the tourists.

All of this and then the imperious Jacques Kallis, a man who has had far more runs and wickets to his name than column inches in such an illustrious career.

Whilst his bowling is not what it was when he was first change up to Donald and Pollock - consider just how long this man has been around - his batting has been so far impervious to time with his standing bearing comparison to the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting and Lara.

Kallis does not have a great record in England (only one century) but his presence is immense. His stoic stays at the crease and his ability to act as a fourth seamer will be crucial if indeed South Africa are to push England hard.

The English press wrote much in the past about the talents of Andrew Flintoff and whilst Kallis is more a batsmen come part time bowler these days rather than an all rounder in the truest sense, he is a sensational cricketer and one of the best the world has ever seen, England beware.

England have a very settled batting line up other than No6 which has remained a problem position since Paul Collingwood retired.

Jamie Bairstow has been an unfortunate victim of rare short term thinking by the England selectors after his brief opportunity against the West Indies. Given the England selectors' general policy of continuity of selection in recent years and the importance of the series, it is hard to find too much fault with them picking the batsman they feel is best placed to score runs in the short term.

For Ravi Bopara, there is a feeling that we've been here before. He has undoubted talent but unlike the travails of Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash, there is a suspicion that Bopara's problems at test level are due to technique rather than pyschological ones.

If the current England test team have a problem, it is a lack of competition for batting places with no real alternative to the current established top five. For Bopara it is possibly a final chance but one that unfortunately comes against an attack tailor made for these conditions. One hopes that when Steyn is moving the ball around at pace that his gate remains firmly closed.

Given the abilities of Matt Prior as the best test wicketkeeper batsman in the world and a readily wagging tail of Broad, Swann and Bresnan, England have batting depth the current envy of the world and given the dreadful injury to Mark Boucher, that balance and depth of batting could prove the crucial factor in what will be a close fought series.

Each test should be able to provide a result and first innings scores of 350 or over should be at a premium. England have their tails up, have the West Indies series under their belts and a better balance to their team. We at this blog predict a 2-0 series win to England with one test undoubtedly falling foul of the weather - No Nonsense.