Highveld provides England a new challenge

England in South Africa 2015-16 January 10, 2016

The Wanderers has a history of producing result-orientated Test cricket and for England there is the tantalising prospect of being able to secure a series victory

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After their short break following the second Test in Cape Town, England’s players will return to the day job on Monday as they begin preparations for the third Test at the Wanderers with the chance at a second series victory in South Africa since readmission.

They will need to spend the three days ahead of the series resumption adjusting to the new challenges posed by cricket on the Highveld, where the thinner atmosphere allows the ball to travel further and faster, while also pushing the physical endurance of the players – especially the bowlers – in the middle.

England, who arrived on Sunday, landed into a region in the midst of a drought. Temperatures had soared to record highs on Friday in Johannesburg (38 degrees) and Pretoria (42.5 degrees). After the bowlers’ toil in Newlands – although from England’s point of view some of that was self-inflicted with fielding errors – they will hope that the hot weather does not mean the Wanderers surface loses the characteristics which make it a result-orientated venue.

Although perhaps of limited value, the evidence of the two first-class matches played at the ground in the Sunfoil Series this season – both within the last month – suggests that an even contest between bat and ball should still be on offer. Both games have been victories for the side batting first, the highest team total in eight innings has been 316 for 8 and seamers have taken 61 of the 72 wickets to fall.

The Wanderers has not staged a Test for more than two years, when India were the visitors, and although it was a draw it was an epic contest where South Africa finished on 450 for 7 having been set 458. Results are the norm at the ground; before that 2013 match the previous drawn encounter against New Zealand in 2000 with three days ruined by rain. The last draw without significant weather intervention was in 1997.

England’s Test matches at the Wanderers have produced some famous moments: Michael Atherton’s unbeaten 185 in 1995 when he and Jack Russell achieved one of the game’s great escapes, being 2 for 4 inside three overs in 1999 against a rampant Allan Donald and in 2005 when Matthew Hoggard and Marcus Trescothick combined to earn England one of their finest overseas victories.

The most recent meeting between the teams in Johannesburg was a slightly more prosaic affair as South Africa surged to an innings-and-74-run series-levelling victory in 2010. England arrived following the Christmas-New Year period where, like this time, they had achieved victory in Durban and drawn in Cape Town, although the Newlands encounter on that occasion was an emotionally-fraught nine-wicket down survival.

Having also saved the first Test of that 2009-10 series by the skin of their teeth at Centurion, England looked drained during the final encounter and could not cope with Dale Steyn – who is battling to be fit for this Test – and Morne Morkel on the opening day. The pair shared eight wickets in the first innings and 14 across the match as only Paul Collingwood with a second-innings 71 passed fifty. If the series is 1-1 after the Wanderers this time it will set up a terrific conclusion at Centurion, but England will not want to take it that far.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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