Thursday, 19 July 2012

England v South Africa

Fantasy Bob's worldwide readership should know better than to look to him for any insights on important sporting events. But they still do, no doubt enjoying that feeling of superiority that comes from seeing any thoughts he might offer on the outcomes soundly proved wrong. 'I told you,' they will say knowingly to each other, 'when FB says one team is likely to win that is a cast iron certainty that the opposite will happen.'

So it is with some trepidation that FB comes to consider the England v South Africa Test series which gets underway at the Oval today, weather permitting. FB shares the general disappointment among cricket lovers that this series is curtailed to 3 matches. Instead of a 5 act drama with twists and turns and the unexpected, things risk being over in a flash. It is more than likely that the weather will have an important bearing on the outcome - possibly saving one team or denying the other the chance of a victory. Early advantage will be important.

England in tribute to FB

FB notes that England have been training with blindfolds. He assumes this is a tribute to FB and his eyes shut approach to batting. This will undoubtedly give them the edge.

Pundits are making much of the battle of the bowlers with each side having an impressive bowling line-up firing at the top of their game. FB has had a look at them all and concluded that there is no one he fancies facing. There will be 6 of the top 10 bowlers in the current Test Rankings on display. Of the bowlers who are likely to feature in the series only Kallis and Imran Tahir is outside the top 20.

Steyn at practice (as if he needs it)
Leading by some distance is Dale Steyn, one who FB would DEFINITELY not like to face, whose 272 Test wickets have come at 23.18 and a frightening strike rate of 40.9 - that is one wicket every 6 and a half overs. Jimmy Anderson maybe supreme in English conditions and is currently third in the rankings but by comparison with Steyn his average and strike rate are modest. Anderson's average looks high to FB for a bowler of his quality and reflects the variable form of his early career. By contrast the early career of Vernon Philander has jet boosters attached - he reached 50 wickets in record time and carries a reputation not for brute pace but very tight control of line and length in the McGrath mould. Swan is a greater threat but may need to the conditions to be in his favour to make an impact.

When it comes to batting, S Africa look to have the stronger batting line up with de Villiers, Kallis and
Amla all above England's highest ranked player Alistair Cook who is in 9th overall place. However overall there is not much in it as both teams have 4 batsmen in the top 20.

So against this background, here are FB's key questions:

Can Kallis deliver in England - he has never achieved in England and this will be his last chance to get his name on the honours board at Lords. Kallis has a poor record in England where he averages a mere 29.30 - little more than half his overall 56.78.  He has been dismissed for less than 15 on 11 of the 20 occasions he has batted in England and has scored only three half-centuries.  There are some resonances with Sangakkara here who had never done himself justice in England but was able to salve some pride with a century at the Rosebowl.

How will de Villiers cope with having to keep in the first test following the career ending injury to Mark Boucher? His previous Test outings with the gloves didn't dampen his run getting but it will disappointing not to see one of the great fielders in the modern game not prowling the outfield.  De Villiers has the chance to show himself to be the finest batsman of his generation.

What will be the mental state of KP? It is good that everything is clarified in that he has been omitted from the T20 squad announced this week. That should be an end of it. but it gives the Saffies sledging material if nothing else. Can he withstand the chat and Steyn at the same time? And will any of it rub off on the rest of the team - Flower has a hard management task ahead.

Will Bopara come good?  If all goes to plan he may not get too many opportunities if England's big guns score heavily. But if they don't he has the challenge of saving the innings. He has been so near so often. It would be good to see him deliver.

What impact will the conditions have?  England have been supreme in recent years at home and this summer conditions couldn't be more English.  Above all this is the reason that FB goes with England to win - but he hopes for a tightly contested series with every match going into the final session of the fifth day with everything to play for.

Who will win the Open?  AB de Villiers plays off scratch - so he might be a candidate but that he is at the Oval.  But too many Saffies have been taking golf's majors recently - time for a home grown player.  FB  would love Paul Lawrie to do well and confirm his recent resurgence.  But most likely it will be an unknown American.  Since FB at this point has never heard of him, he cannot give a forecast.  His world wide readership will have to make up their own minds.

Lawrie - Not facing Steyn

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