England failed in their opening leg of a busy winter in Pakistan a couple of months ago but that was merely the starter for the main course which begins on Boxing Day when they embark on a four match Test series against the number one side in the world South Africa.
You wouldn’t think South Africa were the best side in the world based on their showing against India earlier in the winter but conditions there didn’t suit them and the fact that was their first series defeat outside Africa for almost ten years shows how good a side they’ve been.
The question for them going into this series is whether they are still as good a side now. The mere fact AB de Villiers has been given the keeping gloves back suggests they are worried about their batting quality and depth outside their main two but they will at least be boosted by the return to fitness of Dale Steyn, a man who has regularly skittled England in the past.
England actually put up more of a fight than the scoreline suggested in their series against Pakistan. Had they been able to get four more overs into the first Test they would have gone 1-0 up in the series and it could have been so different.
Although this is a young England side going into battle here Alastair Cook can take confidence in the way his team saw off Australia in the summer and their performances in the warm up matches exude plenty of confidence. One setback they have had is an injury to Jimmy Anderson but England coped better than expected without him at Trent Bridge when Stuart Broad showed us the amazing bowler he is.
This opening match of the series takes place at Kingsmead in Durban. There have been 40 matches here in the past and South Africa have played in them all. They’ve had mixed success it has to be said with just 14 wins to 13 defeats and 13 draws. England have only lost one of the 15 matches they have played on this ground.
There has only been one draw here since 2000 which leads me to think there will be a result in this match and given that South Africa have lost four of their last five here I can’t say I’m in any rush to back the home side here.
Prior to Anderson being ruled out of the match I was all over England in this match. I still think they are worth backing here given South Africa’s troubles here but I’ll only have a smaller bet than I normally would as that Anderson injury has bumped the odds out enough that we don’t need to risk too much.
My main bet for this match is going to be on Moeen Ali and his performance line which looks very low at 93.5pts. First and foremost he is quite capable of covering that with two digs with the bat in his hand but it is the bowling potential he has here that I like.
Without looking deep into the stats and facts you could be forgiven for thinking Kingsmead Durban – seamers paradise but that isn’t the case. In fact spin plays a significant part on this ground, or at least has done in recent matches, so that makes Moeen standout.
When we factor in the drought that is currently taking place in the Durban area I’m expecting a dry wicket which might well break up earlier than expected so Moeen should play a prominent role with the ball as well as a potentially significant one with the bat so both his performance and him to be man of the match look worthy of backing.
Finally although this ground doesn’t have a history of both sides batting on the first day the 9/4 price on it happening is just too big for me to ignore. Both sides are largely about two men with the bat in hand and certainly were South Africa to bat first you would wonder if they have the depth to bat the day out were either Amla or de Villiers to fail.
England bat much deeper than South Africa but it wouldn’t be the first time a flimsy element has been exposed in 2015 were their top order to struggle so it isn’t totally out of the question that England could fail to bat a day out so at 9/4 I’ll chance that in this one.
Back England to win 1st Test for a 2/10 stake at 3.50 with Bet365
Back M.Ali’s Performance – Over 93.5pts for a 4/10 stake at 1.83 with Paddy Power
Back Both teams to bat on Day 1 for a 3/10 stake at 3.25 with Sportingbet
Back M.Ali Man of the Match for a 1/10 stake at 21.00 with Betfred