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4 Key English Players v South Africa

4 Key English Players v South Africa

24 December 2019, by: Daniel Gallan

English Players to watch in UK v South Africa

The appointments of Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Charl Langeveldt has breathed new optimism in South African cricket after a retched year both on and off the field. But that goodwill will only last provided the Proteas can do what they have not managed to do for 19 years – beat England in a Test series on home soil.

It’s a remarkable stat given the back-to-back victories that Smith achieved as captain in England in 2008 and 2012. Both sides are flawed but are smattered with world-class performers. The battle between Jofra Archer and Kagiso Rabada as the supreme alpha fast bowler of the series will be fascinating as will the narrative surrounding the two beleaguered captains, Faf du Plessis and Joe Root, who also happen to be their sides’ leading batters.

Ben Stokes will no doubt feature heavily. The recently crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner left an indelible mark on 2019, primarily with the bat, and his contribution at number five could be decisive.

But there are other players du Plessis and co must be wary of. If South Africa can take care of the four players listed below, the money that has been hanging on their backs for almost two decades can finally be exorcised.

We’ve mentioned that Stokes cut a commanding presence with bat in hand over the last 12 months. His match-winning effort in the World Cup final was eclipsed by his heroic rearguard in Headingley in the Ashes.

His increased responsibility with bat, however, has taken some of the bite from his bowling. Over the past year, his average has climbed to 37.9 compared to his career average of 33.45 while his strike-rate has also increased from 59.9 to 70.3.

This could be explained by the rise of Archer and the need for Stokes to play more of a holding role. In the Headingley Test, he hurled down 25 consecutive overs, proving his ability to maintain a high standard while others around him wilt.

But if South Africa’s batters can knock the fiery all-rounder from his rhythm, Root loses a valuable defensive option in the field which could place greater emphasis on the wicket-taking abilities of Archer and his other front-line quicks.


At 37, most fast bowlers are be comprised of little more than brittle cartilage and creaky bones. James James Michael Anderson OBE is not most fast bowlers.

Since he last left these shores in January 2016, having helped England win the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy 2-1, Anderson has only got better.

In the intervening years, his bowling average is an eye-watering 20.09. Only three bowlers – Bhuvneshwar Kumar (18.5), Jasprit Bumrah (19.24) and Duanne Olivier (19.25) – have bettered that in that time.

Anderson’s uncomplicated action and remarkable fitness has ensured he remains a force in the game at an age when his contemporaries have long had their feet up. But he has started showing his age and a calf injury kept him out of the recently concluded New Zealand series. He should be fit for Boxing Day but could be vulnerable if he is knocked off his lengths or the Highveld air decides to keep the new ball gun-barrel straight.


A Test average of 33.53 does no justice to the immense talent Jos Buttler possesses. A remarkable cricketer with the ability to hit the same ball anywhere in the ground, his lightning fast hands, outrageous chutzpah and impeccable timing point to a player who has the potential to rival Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson at the summit of world cricket’s batting hierarchy.

But, for whatever reason, things have not clicked for Buttler.

Perhaps it is his batting position. He has spent the majority of career – 34 out of 66 innings – at number seven and is largely tasked with smacking a few bonus runs while shepherding the tail. His average does climb to 39.69 when promoted to number six but he is likely going to remain at seven as he will be asked to shoulder the extra burden of keeping wicket.

Jonny Bairstow’s inability to transform white ball dominance into red ball consistency means he will miss out. With the gloves, Buttler is more than competent but it does stifle his contribution as a world-class batter.

With England’s top order short of experience, Root will lean hold out of heavy contributions from the middle. Buttler will stride to the wicket as the last recognised batter and his wicket could be the difference between South African chasing a gettable total or holding out for a draw.


With 14 Test caps, Rory Burns is the undisputed leader of England’s top three. Dom Sibley and Joe Denly – with two and 10 caps respectively – are still finding their way and will be desperate for the relative veteran Burns to lay a solid foundation.

Having scored mountains of County Championship runs for Surrey, scoring 1,359 of them at 67.71 in the club’s title-winning campaign in 2018, Burns is proof that you don’t need to look pretty to get the job done. His technique is, interesting, and begins with an odd cock of the head in order to get his stronger left eye looking down the pitch. His bats wafts in the air behind him like an antenna searching for better signal and his body gyrates in such a way that he appears to be moving at a different frame rate to the world around him.

No matter, Burns values his wicket and is strong off his hips and down the ground. His trigger can get him in trouble when the ball is dug in short and rushes him and Rabada and the other snarling fast men at du Plessis’ disposal will be looking to batter the opener with a barrage of bouncers.

With Andrew Strauss’ contributions at the top of the order a distant memory, and Alistair Cook focussing on farming in the east of England, Burns is England’s best bet to rectify a long standing deficiency. There is no tougher place to open in the world than South Africa. Of Burns fires, England will hold an advantage.


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