Ben Stokes and James Taylor both hit centuries in England's warm-up game this week.

No Christmas Spirit for England in South Africa

Ben Stokes and James Taylor both hit centuries in England's warm-up game this week.

There’s a huge amount of sport to be enjoyed over the festive period, with plenty of action to get our teeth into. From the hectic Premier League schedule to the World Darts Championship, sport lovers will be in their element – especially those who have a well-earned break from work to look forward to. There’s also the small matter of the England cricket team’s tour of South Africa, which starts on Boxing Day. So if you’ve had more than enough ‘quality’ time with the family and watched your fair share of sentimental movies, switch off the mother-in-law and switch on the TV to indulge yourself in a bit of top class cricket from the warmer climates of Durban.

This tour – the first time England have toured South Africa in six years – will consist of four test matches, five one-day internationals, two Twenty20 games and a partridge in a…okay, okay, We’ll stop with the Christmas analogies there. We’ve already tipped the South Africans to come out on top in the series, and now we’re turning our attention to the first of the five-day tests which runs from the 26th December to to the 30th.

The First Test

England are set to play the top rated side in the world in test cricket, and they are going to be up against it from the outset. Both teams, however, come into this tour off the back of confidence-sapping results. England were beaten 2-0 in the test series against Pakistan in UAE, while South Africa have just returned from a 3-0 whitewash in India. The one-day internationals will give the England side a chance to continue their progress as an attacking force and test their mettle against some of the best limited-overs players in the world; while the T20 internationals will be excellent preparation for both country’s as they prepare for the 2016 World Twenty20 in a few months time.

The test matches are a different proposition, and it will be interesting to see how both teams react to those poor recent results. South Africa at least showed a determination and fighting spirit as they tried to salvage something from the series in India, and they are worth backing to start on the front foot against Engand by taking the first test at  +110  with Skybet.

England Warm Up

England have been participating in the first of two warm-up games over the last few days, a three-day tour match against a South Africa invitation XI in Potchefstroom. The squad will also play an invitation XI in another three-day warm-up at the Pietermaritzburg Oval, before heading to the Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, in Durban.

Although England are in strong command in that first warm-up game – they lead by 381 runs going into the final day – the match has created more questions than answers. Alex Hales was given the chance to open alongside captain Alastair Cook, but he hasn’t exactly grabbed it with both hands, being bowled out for 8 runs in both of his innings. Cook also struggled with just 2 runs in the opening innings, and the blushes of the top two were spared by Ben Stokes and James Taylor who hit 158 and 114 respectively from the middle order.

Compton was brought in for Ballance at number three and he hit a half-century in the first innings, but was dismissed for a disappointing 15 next time around. A small shred of good news is that Steven Finn has been recalled to the test squad after missing the series against Pakistan with a bone stress injury in his foot. He has recovered enough to join up with the rest of the players, but not enough to take part in this first test and he may add something to the attack later on in the series.

South Africa Make Changes

It’s been no bed of roses for South Africa either, as they stumbled to a 3-0 whitewash in their series against India, and changes are afoot. They’ve named a 13-man squad for the first two tests, with AB de Villiers apparently the only wicket keeper selected. De Villiers has kept wicket in 23 of his 201 tests, the most recent of which was against the West Indies in January. He is third in the International Cricket Council’s Test batting rankings, but Cricket South Africa has said that the move is to help boost the side’s batting depth after that humiliating loss in India.

Batting and Bowling Stakes

AB de Villiers led the resistance in the final match in India, and he’s a good punt to be top South Africa batsman in this test too, with  +275  on offer with BetVictorWilliam Hill and Coral

He made 42 runs in the first innings of the final test, and then 43 in the second innings, making him South Africa’s top batsman in both. It was the 43 in his second go with the bat that caught the eye, as he played a stubborn and uncharacteristic defensive game to last for 345 minutes at the crease. His side were eventually bowled out, but the man who holds the records for the fastest 50, 100 and 150 in one-day cricket is fancied to rack up the runs under what will be markedly different circumstances.

While we don’t have much faith in England’s batting or their chances of winning here, they may be a little bit of value in the bowling stakes, with Stuart Broad a tempting  +250  with BetfredCoral and Totesport

Jimmy Anderson will be expected to lead the England attack,  but these pitches can favour the fast bowler; and although not making the same headlines as his counterpart, Broad has been in decent form all year. He took three wickets in the first innings against South Africa’s invitation XI in this week’s warm-up game, and if anyone is going to halt the host’s batting game it could be him.

Tips Summary

South Africa to beat England
1st Test – 26th to 30th December, 08:00 GMT Start
Odds:  +110

AB de Villiers to be top South Africa Batsman
1st Test – 26th to 30th December, 08:00 GMT Start
Odds:  +275

Stuart Broad to be top England Bowler
1st Test – 26th to 30th December, 08:00 GMT Start
Odds:  +250

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