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England’s tour of South Africa continues this week with the third test set to begin in Johannesburg on Thursday morning at 08:30 GMT. The tourists were 1-0 ahead after a scintillating first test performance, but the second test became a war of attrition as both sides racked up huge first innings scores on a wicket that offered bowlers little assistance. England also failed to take advantage of their chances as a number of dropped catches left them struggling, but in truth the stalemate was visible from a long way out.
This time around the two teams do battle in Johannesburg at Wanderers, where the groundsman has described the pitch as “a five-day result wicket with pace, bounce, seam, spin and 350 is a good first innings score”.
With that in mind, England are worth a punt to take an unassailable lead in the four-test series, despite being the slight outsider of the three results.
The Series Story so Far
England shocked South Africa in the first test, cruising to a 241-run victory against the odds, making the number one ranked test side in the world look decidedly average. It was even more surprising as it was England’s first away test victory since 2012 and their biggest in terms of runs scored against South Africa since they were readmitted to the international cricket scene in 1991. With the English having racked up scores of 303 and 326 from their two innings, South Africa were left to chase 416 in their 2nd knock, but never really looked like making up the deficit as Steven Finn took 4-42 on the final day and the hosts bowed out for 174 before lunch on the final day.
Hopes were high in the England camp for the second test in Cape Town, especially after declaring for a huge 629-6 in their first innings with Stokes hitting an incredible 258. However, South Africa hit back superbly on a wicket that clearly favoured the batsmen, replying with 627-7 to bring the game level. With four days of dominant batting a result grew ever more distant, particularly as rain interrupted the final day. England withstood a South Africa bowling attack where they cheaply lost six wickets for 159 runs, but by that time the draw had always looked the most likely result. The Proteas captain, Hashim Amla, stepped down from his post, citing a need to concentrate on his own game, and he will be replaced by AB de Villiers for the remaining two tests of the series.
Johannesburg a ‘Results’ Ground
Many observers will cite the fact that South Africa were dominating towards the end of the second test as a sign of their return to good form, but England also let them off the hook so many times during the game that it could have been an entirely different story. The tourists dropped ten catches during the course of the match, and had even half of them stayed in the hands of the fielders it would have made such a difference. They surely can’t be so wasteful this time around.
Bowlers to Come to the Fore
James Anderson is back in the fold, and he’s a great shout to finish top England bowler at 3/1 4.00 +300 3.00 3.00 -0.33 with Ladbrokes
He only took the one wicket in South Africa’s sole innings in the second test, with Steven Finn and Stuart Broad taking two apiece, but with the run out under his belt he can come good at Wanderers. The pitch should offer plenty of swing and England’s number one test bowler should have the conditions to enjoy himself and put South Africa’s under-confident batsmen under pressure.
Dale Steyn had looked set to return to the host’s line up after suffering an injury in the first test which caused him to miss out on the second, but it has been confirmed that the shoulder problem will also keep him out of the third. It’s a big blow for the Proteas who had kept him in the squad in the hope he could make the final two tests, and it will blunt their bowling attack to some degree.
England are in good nick, and it could be argued that none of Cook, Anderson and Root have made significant contributions so far, so there is room for improvement. Bairstow and Stokes have both been excellent so far, while Steven Finn and Moeen Ali have taken up the bowling mantle in Anderson’s absence. If those four continue to produce their best cricket and England can open with a bit more batting prowess it could be nicely set up for the bowlers to take advantage, and it would be a huge surprise if England manage to drop quite as many catches this time around as they did in the second test.
England to win the third test
Starts Thursday 14th January, 08:30 GMT
Odds: 2/1 3.00 +200 2.00 2.00 -0.50
James Anderson to be top England bowler in the third test
Starts Thursday 14th January, 08:30 GMT
Odds: 3/1 4.00 +300 3.00 3.00 -0.33