The 2nd Test between England and South Africa begins at 11am on 2nd August 2012 (weather permitting) and after their Innings and 12 runs victory, South Africa go into the Test with the knowledge that victory in either of the remaining 2 Test matches will result in them moving to the top of the ICC Test Rankings. In contrast England, as the incumbent leading Test side, are staring the barrel of losing that position barely a year after they grasped it with a stunning 4-0 series whitewash of an abject Indian side last summer. This pivotal Test match will take place at Headingley, and large attendances are expected, with the first 3 days near sell out, the weather forecast looks set fair for the first 2 days but the weekend forecast is less promising for the weekend and Monday so it looks doubtful at this stage that any result other than a draw is likely.
A review of the scorecards from the 1st Test make unpleasant reading for England and it’s supporters, from a batting point of view aside from a 170 stand between Alistair Cook and Jonathan Trott, only Matt Prior got a score of 50 or more in the 1st Innings, and only Ian Bell managed that feat in the 2nd Innings. The batting performance has come in for huge criticism from many quarters and rightly so, though I disagree with the signalling out of Kevin Pietersen for reasons I will explain later in the article. In the 1st Innings only 4 batsmen looked untroubled by the South African bowling attack, Cook, Trott, Prior and Pietersen, Strauss went too early to assess, but Bell and Bopara looked out of their depth against Morkel, Steyn et al. Ian Bell to his credit did recover things in his 2nd Innings but taking 220 balls to score his 55 runs is hardly a blistering statement of intent. Matt Prior was the most consistent across the 2 Innings and scored his runs at a nice rate and remains a key player in his No 7 batting position. Bopara, who has made himself unavailable for selection for this Test due to personal reasons, was woeful throughout and continues to look out of his depth against the top Test sides and should be a major question mark for future selection., which would be increased by a strong performance by potential debutant James Taylor.
For once, England’s usually reliable bowling attack misfired and their figures and performances are a major cause for concern with just 2 wickets taken in the sole South African Innings. Compared to the South Africa’s pace bowlers, Broad and Bresnan looked sluggish, Anderson has never been to quickest of bowlers but he too looked short of pace, clearly they will need to improve in this Test and it would be no surprise to see the pace of Finn brought in for this Test. If Finn was to be brought in as a straight swap for another bowler, Stuart Broad could be most at risk as it would be unlikely that Anderson would be dropped as he is the leader of the attack and Bresnan could be retained due to his experience of Headingley. I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Broad excluded for this Test as it would allow him a chance to work on his pace levels which has dropped this summer since his Man Of The Match performance against West Indies in the 1st Test of that series. Finn would be bring a different proposition for the South African batsmen to deal with and could give England an extra dimension that their bowling lacked at The Oval.
South Africa will be feeling that both sides of their game are in a strong place and will be looking to sustain that at Headingley, and from a batting point of view they have 3 batsmen in supreme confidence in Smith, Alma & Kallis and hungry batsmen in Petersen, de Villiers, Rudolph & Duminy who will be hoping to showcase their talents in this Test. Much like the batting line up, South Africa’s bowlers look in supreme form, Steyn and Morkel looked aggressive, quick and potent, and once they got the bit between their teeth, they didn’t let up. Kallis and Philander provide solid back up to Steyn and Morkel contributing with both wickets and efficiency, Tahir looks a very tricky bowler and who England deal with him could be critical to their Innings building if they continue to struggle against Morkel and Steyn. The ethos in the South African camp will likely be that The Oval performance is a stepping stone for further glory and their self belief doesn’t look misplaced based on that performance.
Headingley has been typecast as something of a bowlers paradise with England and touring nations being skittled for low scores in past Tests. However, strong batting performances have been made, recently by Australia in 2009 and ominously by South Africa in 2008, so discipline with bat and ball is vital. With cloud cover expected throughout the 5 days, but uncertainty over the amount of play that could be possible over the weekend, the captain who wins the toss will face a tough decision. A sensible move would be to bat first as the inclement conditions forecast over the weekend would be favourable to bowlers. Either way I don’t think the toss will be the key to victory, the key will be exploitation of the conditions as they arise, if England do bat first I believe it will be vital that they get a good opening partnership, one of at least 70 runs, something short of that will put the batsmen on the back foot early against a confident bowling attack.
Unfortunately if forecasts are to be believed it looks likely that the weather will put paid to the chances of a result in this Test but I do believe that in the event of there being a result it will fall in favour of England. Conditions will favour our bowling attack which with the possible inclusion of Steven Finn will provide an extra dimension. From a batting perspective I expect a big performance from Kevin Pietersen, he was unfairly criticised following his performance at The Oval, yes he gave his wicket away in the 1st Innings but he tried to continue the momentum gained by Trott and Cook whilst he was at the crease rather than meekly keep his wicket without success in the way Bell and Bopara attempted. Pietersen is a big match player and he will be fuelled by the words of his critics to put in a performance to denounce their words, if James Taylor is given his debut I believe he will perform well enough to confirm his place in 3rd Test side regardless of Bopara’s availability. Steven Finn, if he plays, will be the star man in the England bowling attack with Graeme Swann providing a more robust supporting role than his flat Oval performance.