South Africa in England 2017 review

Better late than never, Miles Reucroft and Andy Hunter, regular contributors to this here blog, sat down and had a chinwag about South Africa’s series with England. What is the point of a blog, if it is not to offer up ill-informed views into cyber space?

If only Haseeb Hameed hadn’t had such a dreadful 2017. England could use a steady opening partner for Cook

So, who was your player of the series?

Andy: Clearly almost everyone would pick Mo. He took a 10 for and got the first hattrick at the Oval in its 100th Test. However, I would pick Morne Morkel. His figures at the end of the series might not suggest a man who deserves such an esteemed accolade but from start to finish he was superb. I believe he had batsmen playing and missing over 80 times in a four Test series which demonstrates how impressive his bowling was. He has toured here before which clearly gave him an advantage but he has matured as a bowler. In 2012 when he got into a war of words with Kevin Pietersen at Headingley he was dispatched to all corners of the ground as he completely lost his head. There was no evidence of this bowler in 2017 as his hostility and accuracy made him look dangerous in every spell. He might not have taken the wickets but his performances deserved much much more and his batsmen seriously let him down. A few crunching cover drives from his lower order batting were quite fun too.

Miles: Moeen really came to the fore in this series, the first player in a four Test series to take 25 wickets and pass 250 runs. That’s astounding for a player who so often flies under the radar. Ben Stokes’s batting, as I mentioned here, looks to have matured in this series, too. For me, though, Vernon Philander was man of the series. Not so much for what he did, but what he didn’t do. He’s so important to South Africa that his injury problems were a major blow to the side. Faf du Plessis’s public comments about the fitness he keeps himself in were enlightening. The big man needs to do more for himself in order to do more for the team. He could have made things a lot more uncomfortable for England. Instead, he left the exceptional Morne Morkel, as Andy points out, high and dry without sufficient support.

What do you make of this England side?

We were talking before England’s squad to face the West Indies was announced

Andy: I like the look of Westley. Comparisons with John Crawley and Jonathan Trott appear on the money at this stage. He certainly has a tendency to walk over to the off side in order to hit the ball through the on side but he also showed some lovely cover drives. Hopefully he’ll cement his place against the West Indies.

The decision on Jennings is one that I am particularly interested in. He hasn’t convinced as an opener in any way, shape or form and that is a serious concern ahead of the Ashes. The natural replacement is Haseeb Hameed but his lack of form on the county circuit has made his selection almost impossible. Hopefully a 77* against Hampshire is the start of things to come. Whether they throw him into the series against the West Indies or not, he should go to Australia. Of all the debutants in the last 18 months, he is the one that looked most comfortable in his new surroundings. He also showed the mental grit that seems to vanish from the England batting line up far too frequently.

We need Woakes back in the side to give us more balance. I think Toby Roland-Jones equitted himself admirably in his first two games but once the pitch flattened out he seemed to offer little with the ball. With Australia looming and, more pertinently, the Kookaburra ball, we need to find someone who can control a spell or two and offer a threat. After Mark Wood’s disappointing performances at the start of the summer we clearly need more depth in this department too.

Miles: Keaton Jennings looks certain to be dropped. It just hasn’t worked out for him. He never looked comfortable out in the middle and was far too easily worked over. As an opener, of course you will get the odd unplayable nut, but even once he had weathered early onslaughts, Jennings always managed to find a slip fielder. But who to replace him with? My hunch is that Mark Stoneman would fare little better, but I wouldn’t object to his inclusion now and he’s been banging on the door for two or three years now. If only Haseeb Hameed hadn’t had such a wretched 2017! His future remains bright, so it is worth risking a woefully out of form 20 year at the top table?

In the middle order, Alex Hales should return at five. Dawid Malan should be batting no higher than eight in Test cricket, but how can you justify a specialist batsman that far down the order? Hales is in form and, always with one eye on Australia, would find the pitches there to his liking as he has demostrated in the Big Bash previously.

I agree with Andy that we need Chris Woakes back in the side. Anderson, Broad and Stokes were supported ably by Roland-Jones in his two Tests, but his fourth innings performance at Old Trafford should sound a note of caution. Conditions were bowler friendly and he was carted around the ground. You can’t help but worry that he might get dismantled in Australia, much like Chris Tremlett was on our previous tour there. He doesn’t quite have the pace for the Aussie pitches and the Kookabura won’t be his friend.

By Miles Reucroft and Andy Hunter
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