By Steven Jones
Momentum is one of sport’s great intangibles; you can feel its surge both positively and negatively but it cannot be quantified. Which team has the unseen impetus at the half way stage of England’s Test series in South Africa is firmly up for debate.
England are one-nil up after Moeen Ali inspired a 241-run First Test victory in Durban and looked imperious as record-breaking Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow plundered 600-plus first-innings runs at glorious Newlands.
But Hashim Amla’s timely return to form and Temba Bavuma’s historic century took the hosts past 600 too before pressure was applied on day five as six England batsman fell before Bairstow’s steadying presence calmed fears of a troubling defeat.
Captain Alastair Cook would have taken this situation at the start of the series but remains keenly aware that you do not get many chances to win back-to-back Tests away from home at the number one team in the world. Especially when 10 chances, albeit it some very difficult, are missed in the field.
After the Christmas and New Year’s schedule of 10 playing days in 12, both teams have been refreshed by a few days break. Talk is of a “result wicket” on Johannesburg’s Highveld, where the ball travels further and faster due to the altitude.
South Africa – now led by AB de Villiers after Amla’s shock resignation – will be hunting a series-leveling win but England have their own emotive history at the 34,000 capacity bullring.
With Michael Atherton’s marathon 185 not out to clinch an unlikely draw in 1995 and Matthew Hoggard’s magnificent seven on day five in 2005 stirring the emotions, unchanged England start with hope as well as expectation.
When? Thursday, 14 January
Where? The Wanderers, Johannesburg
Start? 8:30am (GMT)
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Alastair Cook (Essex, capt), Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), James Anderson (Lancashire), Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire, wk), Gary Ballance (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Jos Buttler (Lancashire, wk), Nick Compton (Middlesex), Mark Footitt (Surrey), Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire), Chris Jordan (Sussex), Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire), Joe Root (Yorkshire), Ben Stokes (Durham), James Taylor (Nottinghamshire), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire).
AB de Villiers (capt), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl, Hardus Viljoen.
Big game for…
Two Tests in and the captain is yet to make a telling contribution with the bat, despite arriving with the stellar form of 450 runs in three matches against Pakistan. Just 178 runs from becoming the first Englishman to join the exclusive 10,000 club, the hard-grafting 31 year-old also becomes only the second man to play 125 Tests for England. After scores of 0,7, 27 and 8 so far, the Wanderers feels like the place for a hundred.
Johannesburg’s Highveld is traditionally a fast-bowling bonanza, with pacemen averaging 22.60 in the first innings. Finn has eight wickets in the series so far – just one behind Dane Piedt in the standings – and will hope to finish this Test on top with his pace and steep bounce. The fastest Englishman to 50 wickets is only two Tests back after a bone stress injury to his foot too.
AB de Villiers
Recently named ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year, de Villiers relinquished the gloves after the first Test to lessen his workload but now finds himself thrust into the captaincy after Hashim Amla quit in his post-match media. There is no doubting the quality of the multi-format star – he averages 51.52 in 104 Tests – but how will he respond to the added responsibility of leading? As an aside, he averages 78.85 in his last five Tests at the Wanderers.
“Chris Morris is definitely someone that we’re looking at to fulfil the type of role that Shaun Pollock used to do in the past.”
Coaches are often wary about heaping pressure on international newcomers, but South Africa’s Russell Domingo was unusually forthcoming in comparing his Cape Town debutant Morris to a former great. But after 69-run knock, a swinging beauty to castle Joe Root and two stunning slip catches, the 28 year-old’s challenge is to maintain that level.
Quotes from the captains
Alastair Cook : “It would be a great achievement for this side to come here and beat South Africa away from home. And we’re in a position to do that.
“The opportunity is there and it’s just whether we’re good enough to take it.
“It’s an exciting time to play on what are probably two result wickets in these next two games. We need to win one to win the series. That is a great situation to be in.”
“We’re trying to win this and every Test match.” Bullish Cook says team will not be conservative despite 1-0 lead. https://t.co/n2wGiDO2HU
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 13, 2016
AB de Villiers : “I am a very competitive person and I truly hate losing.
“Losing is not an option. We are here to win the series and that is all I am focusing on at the moment.
“I’ve never been the kind to throw a lot of words around or sledge but I like to have good body language and for the team to have good body language, to be in their face in that way.
“I like to really make them feel uncomfortable and to remind them they are away from home and not enjoying (the exchange rate of) the pound to the rand too much.”
2 January, 2016 in Cape Town: draw
26 December, 2015 in Durban: England won by 241 runs
16 August, 2012 at Lord’s: South Africa won by 51 runs
2 August, 2012 at Headingley: draw
19 July, 2012 at the Oval: South Africa won an innings and 12 runs
Did you know?
England are undefeated on their last two tours to South Africa; winning 2-1 in 2004/05 and drawing 1-1 in 2009.
South Africa have a 10-8 win-loss ratio at the Wanderers, with eight losses the most they have suffered at any venue.
New Wanderers Head Groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi will unveil his first international pitch. The 51 year-old, who lives in Soweto, started working at the ground more than 30 years ago.
The “result pitch” in Johannesburg has only produced two draws in the last 16 Tests here.
Alastair Cook is 178 runs shy of becoming only the 12 th batsman ever to reach 10,000 Test runs; the first player to do so for England.