Finally, we are back to a test series. We are also back at the Lords, the Mecca of Cricket. The One-dayers are over and have given way to high-octane test series involving the mighty South Africans and the formidable England. There are some visible changes in both sides. Alistair Cook is no more the England captain passing the leadership baton to the young and exuberant Joe Root. The South African’s will be starting the tour without their regular captain Faf du Plesis who has stayed back at home after a difficult delivery of his first child. In the absence of du Plesis, Dean Elgar gets a chance to showcase his leadership skills.
With two unsettled captains, both teams will start a bit nervous. While Root will try to settle in the role as early as possible, Elgar will have only 5 days before he passes the leadership to Faf du Plesis. An experienced England look much settled as the core remains the same despite the obvious change in leadership. South Africa surely will miss skipper in addition to the experience they had on the last tour which included stalwarts like AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.
With AB Devillers unavailable, Dale Steyn out injured and Faf du Plesis with his new-born baby, they are substantially weak. However, they can still rely on the calmness of Hashim Amla, experience of J P Duminy in addition to mentally-tough Dean Elgar who will be leading South Africa for the first time. A captaincy debut at Lords can be daunting and the pressure will be multiplied on the left-handed opener as Elgar’s family and his old coach are visiting Lord’s to see him perform. Temba Bavuma has shown glimpses of his talent and will need to stand up for the team in the absence of a few key players. 33 year-old Heino Kuhn is an experienced domestic batsman and will be required to use all of them once he takes on the field after being ignored by national selectors despite consistent performances back home.
Though Dale Steyn’s injury is a big setback for the team, Vernon Philander has been declared fit making South Africa’s bowling venomous with young pace sensation Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel providing the required impetus. Stand-in Skipper Dean Elgar will need to take a tough call and decide whether to strengthen the batting by including Theunis de Bruyn or pick a bowling all-rounder Chris Morris. Philander and Morris are both capable of contributing with the bat and thus Morris may edge out specialist Theunis de Bruyn for a place in the 11.
England, except for a change in the leadership, looks settled. Young left-handed bat Keaton Jennings is set to partner Alistair Cook. With an amazing run in 8 county championship matches where Gary Ballance scored at more than 100, the Left-handed Yorkshire batter has secured a place back not only in the England side but also at the coveted No. 3 slot. The move also pushes Joe Root down to no. 4 in the batting order which will mean Ballance will have to do more than usual to justify his inclusion. Jonny Bairstow has been excellent with the bat across formats in the recent past and is settling down as a wicket-keeper. All-rounder Ben Stokes picks himself in the playing 11 with his game-changing ability. Moeen Ali is an improved cricketer and provides a link between the batsmen and bowlers. Moeen’s ability to bat with the tail in addition to his power-hitting skills makes him an invaluable player in the lower middle-order.
Left-arm orthodox spinner Liam Dawson has been picked ahead of pacer Toby Roland-Jones who will have to wait again for his time to come. With Chris Woakes and Jake Ball unfit, 29 year-old Roland-Jones would feel unlucky to miss out on a Test Cap. Mark Wood would complement established pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
South Africa Dean Elgar (capt), Heino Kuhn, Temba Bavuma,, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock (wk), Chris Morris Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel
England Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Gary Ballance, Joe Root (capt), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Dawson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson