Match Preview – England vs South Africa, South Africa in England 2022, 1st Test
Cricket

Match Preview – England vs South Africa, South Africa in England 2022, 1st Test


Big Picture

Amidst the tumult, a return to more familiar rhythms – albeit with the expectation of a modernist twist here and there. For five days this week, it might even be possible to pretend it is Situation Normal in the febrile world of international cricket, where a packed house at Lord’s will burble and murmur in that inimitably disinterested fashion as England and South Africa do battle once again in the grandest old format.

It is rare, but hardly unique, for the Lord’s Test – the traditional centrepiece of the English summer – to begin this late in the season. Last year’s India Test got underway on August 12, an early indicator of the sport’s direction of travel given the onset of the maiden season of the Hundred, while in 2017, West Indies became the first visiting team to play a Test at the ground in September.

But with the provisional dates for next summer’s Ashes suggesting no August Tests at all for the first time in 139 years – thereby clearing the players’ decks for full participation in the ECB’s new centrepiece event – the challenge to an inherently insecure format seems especially real this year. Just as the County Championship has been condemned in recent years to the margins of the summer, so it seems the parent format is to be shunted the same way. The forecast week of rain, amid the hottest, driest summer on record, feels like an apt comment on such prioritisation.

All of which seems deeply ironic given the narrative of the summer so far. England’s world-beating white-ball team has failed to win a home series for the first time since 2013, and while the Hundred has had its moments (where there’s a Will, there’s a way, as Messrs Smeed and Jacks can attest) it would take a well-remunerated cheerleading commentator to pretend that the contests we’ve so far witnessed have been the apogee of sporting endeavour.

No, the most visceral thrills and spills of the English summer so far have been invested in the red-ball game – specifically, four humdinging Tests against New Zealand and India, each of them capped by an eye-popping run-chase from an England side that has shed the reticence that condemned it to one win in 17 Tests in the preceding 18 months, and under the thrilling new management of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, has resolved to play like “rockstars”.

Captain and coach aside, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root have been the pivotal figures of the renaissance – the former by taking McCullum’s “see ball, hit ball” mantra as a personal call to arms, to blaze four centuries and an unbeaten 71 in his last five innings; the latter by embodying the true ethos of “Bazball” (to revert to the phrase that dare not be uttered within earshot of any participant), and seeing the art of Test-match batting as one of possibility and positivity, rather than a game of safety-first reticence.

“The Yorkshireman inside me is still saying ‘dig in, play straight and get behind it’,” Root said after his matchwinning 142 not out against India. “Then there’s the captain on the other shoulder saying ‘be a rockstar’. So you’re fighting between the two of them, sometimes.”

Quite apart from the entertainment that England’s new attitude has offered, the imperative for such fireworks is equally plain to see. It’s not simply the Hundred that is putting the squeeze on Test cricket – the explosion of franchise tournaments is turning the screw like never before, with Cricket South Africa’s IPL satellite event and the oil-rich pickings of the UAE-based International League chief among them, meaning that the five-day game needs to adapt to survive.

The format needs to be entertaining, both to encourage the best players to keep putting themselves forward to play it, but also to be recognisable to the coming generation that might not have the defensive techniques to dig out for a 180-over draw, but possess the range and power of strokes that might even make a 500-run chase seem attainable.

Such are the genre-busting issues that England’s new approach has brought bubbling to the surface. Not that South Africa yet seems fully sold on such nonsense, of course. Dean Elgar, their hard-bitten captain whose nuggetty technique so resembles that of his forebear Graeme Smith, has spoken in withering terms about the “Bazball” phenomenon, and having played an integral part in two hugely impressive, albeit old-school, run-chases against India earlier in the year, he’s well within his rights to point out that traditional Test values still have their place.

“I don’t see that there’s longevity in brave cricket,” he told Wisden Cricket Monthly. “I see things evening out over time in Test cricket. Had New Zealand taken their opportunities, England would have come away with egg on their faces.”

South Africa have every right to be ebullient. They are top of the World Test Championship table, and are full of confidence after a fine display in the preceding white-ball leg of the summer – not least from Rassie van der Dussen whose matchwinning 134 at Chester-le-Street epitomised the sort of measured aggression that this team are capable of bringing to all formats.

And yet, they come into this game off the back of a full-frontal Bazballing against England Lions at Canterbury – defeat by an innings after conceding 672 at close to a run a ball. As the Lions skipper Sam Billings put it afterwards: “You’d be pretty stupid to ignore that, if I’m honest. If that’s not a wake-up call…. because we’re not even the best XI.”

Still, you’d back South Africa to take that indignity on the chin and process it – much as England themselves did in a similarly comprehensive A-team battering on their victorious 2004-05 tour, which the then-captain Michael Vaughan succinctly described as a “kick up the arse”. That is what practice matches are for, after all. Dress rehearsals for the real thing. And, irrespective of the hype and drama flying around elsewhere in the world game, things don’t get much more real than a Lord’s Test at the height of the summer.

Form guide

England: WWWWL (last five completed matches; most recent first)
South Africa: WLWWL

In the spotlight

Forty and still fabulous, James Anderson will once again lead the line for England, as he takes the Test field for the 173rd time, including an incredible 27 matches at Lord’s, which is more games on a single ground than many mighty players managed in their entire careers. Speaking on the eve of the match, Anderson struck a mildly lugubrious note as he reflected on the reality that he is the last of a breed – with the growth of T20 leagues, no-one else “will be stupid enough” to play until they are 40, he said (although he admitted his similarly one-formatted team-mate Stuart Broad would have a shot at it). But, having set up England’s fourth victory of the summer with his 32nd Test five-for against India at Edgbaston last month, Anderson remains unchallenged as the kingpin of the attack, and moreover, he has bought into the new team ethos with unflinching enthusiasm. Incredibly, it is 20 seasons since his first Test encounter with South Africa.

Of all of the returnees to South Africa’s Test fold post-Kolpak, none comes back with a reputation more enhanced than Simon Harmer’s, at least in the eyes of his English opponents. Harmer’s arrival at Essex in 2017 coincided with an exponential run of success for the then-newly promoted county – he has harvested a total of 354 wickets at 20.65 in the past six seasons, 28 five-fors, nine ten-wicket hauls, two County Championships titles and the Bob Willis Trophy in 2020. Oh, and he hit the winning runs in the T20 Blast final too. South Africa does not have a great reputation for spin bowling, but Harmer’s attributes include height, aggression, a fierce ability to tweak the ball on any surface and a competitive edge that captains adore. His first-class record at Lord’s, as it happens, is some way shy of his overall impact in England – just eight wickets at 40.12 in two visits. But he’ll be itching to improve on that this week.

Team news

England: 1 Zak Crawley, 2 Alex Lees, 3 Ollie Pope, 4 Joe Root, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Ben Stokes (capt.), 7 Ben Foakes, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Jack Leach, 10 Matthew Potts, 11 James Anderson

South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Sarel Erwee, 3 Keegan Petersen, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Rassie van der Dussen, 6 Kyle Verreynne, 7 Keshav Maharaj, 8 Marco Jansen, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Anrich Nortje

Kagiso Rabada underwent a fitness test on Tuesday and is due another check-up after straining the medial ligament on his right ankle. With Duanne Olivier already ruled out of the series with a torn hip flexor muscle, South Africa will be particularly keen for their attack leader to come through fit and firing, and signs were promising on match eve. Beyond that assessment, the main decision could come down to the selection of an extra batter if they choose to overlook the up-and-coming allrounder Marco Jansen. Ryan Rickelton has been in fine form in the Championship for Northamptonshire, although there’s the outside chance that Khaya Zondo could be called up for his second cap, having not batted on debut against Bangladesh in April.

Pitch and conditions

Rain is in the offing after weeks of drought in London, with the contest set to traverse the downpours over the coming five days. That may, in turn, play a part in the conditions, with Lord’s traditionally a venue where you look up, not down, at the toss. To date, the pitch looks fairly green, although a lot of that grass is likely to be removed before the first ball is bowled.

Stats and Trivia

  • Jonny Bairstow needs just six more runs to reach 1000 in Tests for the calendar year, having already scored six centuries in his haul of 994 at 76.46 in eight matches since the start of 2022.
  • Joe Root isn’t far behind that tally himself. He has 927 at 61.80 in nine matches so far this year, including five centuries. With six Tests to come this year, against South Africa and Pakistan, he could yet surpass the six hundreds he made in 2021, although matching his England-record tally of 1708 could be a long-shot.
  • Dean Elgar needs 136 runs to become the eighth South African to reach 5000 in Tests.
  • Elgar is the only specialist batter in South Africa’s ranks to have played a Test at Lord’s, while Rabada and Keshav Maharaj are the only other survivors from their last appearance at the ground in 2017.
  • Quotes

    “The opposition seem to be doing a lot of talking about it. We don’t really speak about it that much. They’ve got a style of play, we’ve got a style of play.” Stokes on Elgar’s criticism of the term “Bazball”

    “I am not going to entertain that anymore. I just want to get on with the cricket.” Elgar’s last word on the B-word

    Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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