JOHANNESBURG – England will place a major emphasis on scoring big in the first innings when they tackle a disjointed Proteas team in four Tests starting on Boxing Day.
While that sounds like an obvious thing for England head coach Chris Silverwood to focus on, turning words into deeds as far as that aspect of their play is concerned has been very hard for England to do in 2019.
They have only gone past 400 once this year, and that was in their last Test match against New Zealand on a slow, flat track in Hamilton where Joe Root’s 226 was one of five centuries scored.
In fact England have been bowled out for less than a hundred more times than they have topped 400 this year - three occasions, including once by Ireland. In any other period the Proteas would be licking their chops at the prospect of playing this England team, but then again South African cricket and the national team appears totally dysfunctional at the moment.
Not that Silverwood or the English squad are worrying themselves over the Proteas. Silverwood diplomatically shouldered arms yesterday when asked to comment on the state of South African cricket.
Instead the 44-year-old former medium pacer offered the standard, “we want to focus on ourselves,” response. And in truth there is a lot for England, especially their batsmen, to focus on in the next week ahead of the first Test.
“We restructured the batting line-up a bit and we are looking at new ways of doing things,” said Silverwood at Willowmoore Park in Benoni, where England completed training ahead of a two-day match against a local invitation side that starts today.
“It’s not reinventing the wheel by a long a shot, but New Zealand was a good learning curve for us.”
In New Zealand, Silverwood, who took over from Australian Trevor Bayliss after the Ashes, made a strong push for his batsmen to be more patient. They were, but New Zealand’s batsmen were more stoic and as a result the Kiwis snuck a 1-0 win in a two-match Test series.
“It is about getting those first innings runs, then we can pile pressure on first up and as soon as we start doing that we will be very hard to beat,” Silverwood said.
England’s bowlers were made to toil in New Zealand, but Silverwood is expecting there to be a lot more help for them in South Africa. “We’ll get more bounce here obviously, because there is a bit more pace,” he said.
Following the two-day warm-up match, where England are likely to use their entire squad, they will play a first-class fixture against an SA A side also at Willowmoore Park starting on Friday.
England Test squad:
Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (capt), Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Ollie Pope, Ben Stokes, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Matt Parkinson, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson.