The Cricketer
Owen Riley Owen Riley


Root aiming for first series victory as Test captain

If ‘trouncebackability’ is not entered into the Oxford English Dictionary by the end of the year, when face-scrunchingly cringeworthy offerings such as ‘selfie’ and ‘bestie’ are, then someone needs to have strong words with those dictionary folk.

It sums up the trading of blows we have witnessed so far in this seesawing series, as England and South Africa take turns to deal the other a thrashing. If the trend continues, then we can expect South Africa to take this one by 16 wickets...

With only one Test to play, if the visitors do triumph, it will be the second successive series in England that has finished 2-2, with no sign of a deciding fifth. Last summer, Younis Khan’s double saw Pakistan level things up with a 10-wicket victory at The Oval, and that was that.

Trevor Bayliss called the Trent Bridge performance a “shocker” but also alluded to England’s ability to bounce back after hefty defeats, and so it proved. Although that shows character in itself, England will surely be striving for consistency in performances rather than serving up one hammering only to collapse like a house of twigs the next. Old Trafford gives them a chance to do just that, where a win would see Joe Root’s team take the series 3-1. It would be no mean feat, England have not won a Test series against South Africa by more than the odd match since 1960.

Will Liam Dawson return?

England were forced into two changes at The Oval with injuries seeing Gary Ballance and Mark Wood making way for Tom Westley and Toby Roland-Jones. The third change – Dawid Malan for Dawson – was a choice, it remains to be seen if England will look to revert to picking two spinners at Old Trafford.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the third Test, Trevor Bayliss hinted that Dawson may still have a role to play in this series: "I'm still of the view we don't need more than seven batters... we looked at the conditions, saw it was a bit green here and played the extra batsman. There wasn't a great deal of spin, but that could be different somewhere else."

Malan did not get much of a showing – a Kagiso Rabada wrecking ball in the first innings left him in the dust – and he arrived in the second as England were slapping their way to a score at which to declare. If he does keep his place for the fourth and final Test, he will have to produce something if this is to be more than a cameo.

If Tom Westley continues to impress, then there’s no good reason Gary Ballance should ever bat at No.3 for England again. However, if the Yorkshire captain recovers in time, there’s every chance Malan will have to vacate the No.5 birth for the West Indies series.

Can Big Vern stay on the field?

Vernon Philander has produced a fine bowling display in the series. He has no real pace to call upon, but what he lacks in rapidity, he makes up for in skill. What South Africa would give to have a fully fit Philander in the attack.

He has bowled 80 overs in six innings, Rabada has bowled 12 more - despite having missed the Trent Bridge Test – Morne Morkel has bowled 119.5.

Philander’s 10 wickets have come at an average of 23.40 and an economy of 2.92 – the best numbers of South Africa’s attack on both counts. But at The Oval, he was on and off the field more times than the rain covers. Jimmy Anderson smashed him on the digit at Lord’s, and he struggled throughout The Oval Test with a stomach bug.

A six-over spell of 6-4-3-2 on day one at The Oval showed exactly what Philander can do with ball in hand. The Proteas will hope to see more of it, uninterrupted, in Manchester.

Will Roland-Jones fire again?

Easy this Test cricket, isn’t it?

Roland-Jones has had to bide his time, pounding the County Championship treadmill, but when it arrived, he did not disappoint. He walked off ball in hand, cap doffed, after taking 5 for 57 in the first innings.

In the second, the Middlesex man would have a hat-trick opportunity - one of three in the innings, alongside Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali – as he removed Temba Bavuma and Vernon Philander lbw in the space of two balls.

He claimed the key wicket of Hashim Amla twice.

With Anderson and Stuart Broad ensconced in England’s XI, and Chris Woakes and Mark Wood working their way back from injury, Roland-Jones has a battle on his hands, but on his first Test showing, he looks up for a scrap.

Will England continue to show restraint with the bat?

As much of a spectacle as it is, to see Stokes and co flaying bowling attacks to all parts of the globe, crowds baying for blood, pigeons fleeing for cover; the limp collapses that come with that license to ‘express yourself’, have been too many of late.

Alastair Cook, no longer with the captain’s stripes on his arm, led the way on day one at The Oval, picking up his Gray-Nicolls shovel, drawing a line in the sand, and digging in.

Stokes himself coalesced heavy-metal riffs with the odd acoustic melody, which in itself made it perhaps his most impressive century to date. The Durham allrounder showed an ability to switch up and down the gears on route to his fifth Test hundred, as opposed to the all-out destruction that has characterised some of his previous masterpieces.


England (probable): Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Tom Westley, Joe Root*, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow†, Moeen Ali, Toby-Roland Jones, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.

A look at the pitch will probably make up England’s decision whether to continue with Malan or bring Dawson back in.

South Africa (probable): Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock†, Faf du Plessis*, Temba Bavuma, Chris Morris, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel.

Heino Kuhn is averaging just 13 in the series, but has had backing from his captain. South Africa are unlikely to make a switch and bring in the untested Aiden Markram with one to play.


The forecast doesn't look great...

Old Trafford has seen plenty of rain in recent weeks with Lancashire's T20 fixture against Notts abandoned without a ball being bowled, due to a waterlogged pitch.