Moeen Ali took man of the match as England won the first test in South Africa.

England Take Initiative Against Battle-Weary South Africa

Moeen Ali took man of the match as England won the first test in South Africa.

England swept to an unexpected victory in the first test against South Africa in Durban, and such was the hosts’ collapse that the tourists now have the bit between their teeth with a sensational series victory within their sights. Currently ranked the number one test side in the world, South Africa’s place at the top of the table is under serious threat from India after a run of poor test results, and England will look to twist the knife in Cape Town.

South Africa are beset with injuries and had a tough time with the bat, while England looked supremely confident – particularly with the ball, as Moeen Ali led the charge with seven wickets and a man-of-the-match performance. After a year which has seen a disastrous World Cup, an Ashes victory, and poor series results in the West Indies and Pakistan, England have finished on a high, and they can go into the new year with another triumph against a shell-shocked South Africa.

Story of the First Test

England arrived in South Africa with hope more than confidence going up against the top test side in the world, but they made a mockery of that standing with what turned out to be a comfortable 241-run victory in Durban. Both teams came into the series off the back of poor results, with England going down 2-0 to Pakistan in UAE, and South Africa suffering a humiliating 3-0 loss in India. To put the English win in context, it was just their second win in 16 away tests, and the first time they had started an overseas tour with a victory in eleven years.

England started the match with a good first innings of 303, with the returning Compton hitting 85 and Taylor racking up an impressive 70. The downside was the ineffectiveness of openers Hales and Cook who managed just 10 and 0, but Root, Bairstow and Stokes all contributed to a decent knock. South Africa’s turn with the bat resulted in just 214 runs as their problems started to become evident. Elgar hit a cracking 118 not out, but de Villiers only managed 49, and once Stuart Broad had taken that important wicket, he and Moeen Ali ripped through the Proteas with consummate ease, taking four wickets apiece.

England’s second innings saw them amass 326 runs, with Compton adding another 49 to his haul, and again Root and Taylor picking up the baton with 73 and 79 respectively. Taylor weighed in with 42, although the openers of captain Cook and Hales disappointed again with contributions of just 7 and 26. It was enough to leave South Africa chasing an unlikely 400+ to get back into the game. Moeen Ali stepped up to the plate and took another three wickets to take his total for the test to seven, including bowling out the all-important de Villiers – an lbw decision that was upheld after an appeal. That was Ali’s third delivery of the final day and it set England on the path to a fantastic day where they needed just 24 overs to bowl the South African’s out, with Steven Finn taking 4-42 to enhance his position after returning from a foot injury.

England Confident

The confidence coursing through English veins was there for all to see, and the news that up to 10,000 of the barmy army are set to fly into Cape Town for the start of Saturday’s 2nd test, will ensure they are well supported throughout. The really good news for England is that there is still plenty of improvement to come, and this is not them at their very best. The problem of finding a batting partner for Alastair Cook has been ongoing for some time, and Alex Hales hasn’t quite managed to put his best foot forward and make the place his own. There have been several experiments since the retirement of Andrew Strauss, but this is an area where England can certainly get better. That problem has been mitigated by the excellent form of Taylor, Root, Bairstow and Compton, and if the opening partnership can fare better this time around, it would make England even more dangerous with the bat.

However, it has been in the bowling stakes that England have looked so much more impressive than in recent years, and once again, they haven’t been at full strength. Broad, Finn and Ali all produced when it mattered first time around, but coach Trevor Bayliss has the luxury of bringing James Anderson back into the fold for this next clash (possibly at the expense of the unfortunate Woakes, who has done little wrong), and his inclusion will make England even stronger.

With South Africa’s form and injury worries, England are well worth a shout at  +138  with Ladbrokes

South Africa Struggling

South Africa have called up wicketkeeper/batsman Quinton de Kock for the second test, which may give an indication that de Villiers will be relieved of the gloves for this second test; while Chris Morris has been drafted in as a replacement for Dale Steyn. The South African fast-bowler sustained an injury in the 1st test and will be a notable loss for the team. de Villiers loss of form has been quite dramatic – he dropped two catches during England’s second innings, and failed to get above half a century in either of South Africa’s innings. He has also given several interviews where he has spoken of the need to manage his international workload, and that is something the selectors will need to take a long hard look at after this series.

South African coach Russell Domingo has said that Steyn will be assessed prior to the test before a final decision is made, but at the moment he looks likely to miss out. The decision to ask de Villiers to take the wicketkeeping gloves was so that the Proteas could include an extra batsman, but the gamble appears to have backfired, and the decision will also be taken over whether to relieve him of those duties and pass the gloves on to de Kock. There are still some big players in the line up, but they look fragile with the bat right now and England have to be fancied to continue their dominance.

Tips Summary

England to beat South Africa
2nd Test, Cape Town, 2nd – 6th January
Odds:  +138

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