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What Did We Learn From The England v Proteas Test Series?

In this piece, Tim Dale Lace focuses on the areas that had the biggest impact on the series, whether they were good or bad.

England South Africa Talking Points

South Africa has just completed an enticing Test series full of ups and downs for both sides where they lost the series at the final hurdle. This loss must be seen as an overall disappointment as it puts extra pressure on South Africa in their qualification to the World Test Championship Final next year. As with many series, there were good and bad parts of the series and I take you through both. In this piece, I try to focus on the areas that had the biggest impact on the series, whether they were good or bad and obviously I focus on areas that are relevant to South Africa. 

SA Batting Woes Continue

It’s no surprise but South Africa’s weakness was massively exposed in this series against an England side that was missing several of their first XI pace bowlers, which does not bode well. 

No batter averaged over 28 in the series and nobody made a hundred in any of the Tests. The fact that the side was unable to score more than 326 in any innings shows just how poor the batting has been. It was well known that if England got Dean Elgar and Sarel Erwee early (six 50+ partnerships in 13 inns) that the side would struggle; still it is disappointing that nobody in the middle order, where they had picked Aiden Markram, Rassie Van Der Dussen, Khaya Zondo & Ryan Rickelton could arrest that problem. Instead, they relied on the tail & in two of the Tests on pace bowler Marco Jansen with his 48 at Lords, which was crucial to the winning that Test and 30 at the Oval in the first innings. He was South Africa’s leading run scorer in 2 innings, which is an embarrassment.

There was only one 50 made by a South African batter in the series, that being Sarel Erwee and it was his Lord’s debut and only his fifth Test match. 

What South Africa does need to fix is the current middle order poor run will be very interesting with players knocking on that door to get a go. Is it time to get a new batting coach? 

Justin Sammons the batting coach after all made reference during the Oval Test that the problems are technical.

Playing Experience Didn’t Work

Mark Boucher has kept on talking about the importance of experience for the Proteas in England but that only works if the experience is delivering and it hasn’t at any time in the batting department, which is nearly arguably the series with the in-form batters of the squad only playing in the last Test. Aiden Markram leading into the series was averaging fewer than 20 and is now averaging 15 in 2022 & 12 in this series with a highest score of 16. He looks a shadow of the player that was the second fastest South African batter to 1000 test runs.

Rassie Van Der Dussen, while often being the rock of the side over the years, is currently struggling and at the age of 33, you have to wonder if it is time for him to call it quits, at least in this format. This is his worst year in test cricket with an average of 27, which isn’t terrible but isn’t good enough, especially when the team is struggling with its batting. It might be time to say thanks Rassie but we want to move forward with someone else. 

Bowlers Continue To Be Supreme

South African fans know they arguably have the best pace attack in the world and in this series and the XI was selected with that in mind. Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen and Lungi Ngidi all caused numerous problems to the England batters with three of the four averaging fewer than 25 for the series.

They kept South Africa in the series and no more so when in the second Test the batters failed miserably on Day 1 with 151 all out. The bowlers had reduced England to 147/5 at one stage. 

The find of the series for South Africa without a doubt was Marco Jansen who troubled pretty much every single England batter with his genuine pace and bounce off a good length and ability to bring the ball back to the right-hander. You can bet England’s dressing room would have been delighted he didn’t play the second Test. At the same time, Anrich Nortje with his exceptional pace that often reached 94 mph caused a host of problems for England. You only needed to see how he dismantled Jonny Bairstow’s middle stump in the second Test for evidence of that and Kagiso Rabada was his brilliant self, although at times almost playing second fiddle to Anrich Nortje & Marco Jansen. 

The Kyle Verreynne Conundrum

It’s the hardest place to tour as a wicket keeper, it’s only one series, it is only 3 Test matches, oh and he has a Test hundred behind him, these are all important caveats you can make in support of Kyle Verreynne and you would be fair to use any or all of them. However, if you look a little deeper it is a worry about whether he is the long-term answer to take the position left by Quinton De Kock. 

The truth is he has never really looked comfortable at the crease in this series, even when he was in for more than an hour. He still moves around the crease too much, flashes outside the off stump in that fourth stump channel and is prone to getting out lbw to the ball coming back in on a regular basis because of his lack of foot movement. With Rickelton’s inclusion in the deciding Test, it means Kyle Verreynne is a lot more under pressure than he was say a month ago.

Dean Elgar Has Stamped His Authority

Ever since Dean Elgar criticized Kagiso Rabada against India at the beginning of the year by saying “sometimes KG needs a rocket”, it has been clear that this is Dean’s team now. It has been clear to see that throughout this series with no player speaking out; instead, they are all pulling in the same direction both on and off the field, Marco Jansen said this after England finished Day 2 with England on 97/0 needing another 33 to win. 

The team’s tactics involve adopting a hard, determined, never say die attitude, which is exactly how Dean Elgar plays the game. Off the field, his players sing from the same hymn sheet of their captain in all media engagements and the team has had to answer some tough questions on Dean Elgar’s decisions in this series. While the team is multicultural and are very different personalities, there does seem to be a genuine togetherness within the squad. On the selections in this series, it is plain to see Dean Elgar has backed his players to find form, even when the call for change from outside is loud. The term Protea fire might be dead but Elgar’s team is very much alive despite this series loss. 

Time will tell if this changes with Mark Boucher’s sudden resignation last night.

Tims is a CSA accreditated freelance cricket writer who also does cricket commentary for Guerilla Cricket SA and founder of the Full Quota Podcast.

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