LONDON - Independent Media cricket writer Stuart Hess has examined which one-on-one battles will be integral to victory in the first Test between SA and England.
Only Mitchell Johnson has dismissed Cook more than Morkel - nine to eight - and though Cook has scored centuries when Morkel’s been part of South Africa’s attack it’s clear the big fast bowler is someone Cook’s uncomfortable facing. Morkel is devastating from around the wicket to left-hand batsmen and judging by training this week, there appears to be an added focus about him for this series. Having Philander, who also enjoys bowling to lefties, at the other end, helps even more. Cook’s in good form, but it’s highly doubtful he’s faced such a high quality pair on the county circuit this season.
Joe Root vs Kagiso Rabada
One of Root’s finest innings came against Rabada and Co. at the Wanderers in 2016 when he scored 110. That third Test, which England won and along with it the series, also saw Rabada pick up his maiden Test ‘five-for,’ with Root one his victims. In the next Test at Centurion where Rabada claimed 13 wickets, Root’s dismissal was vital and it came with a beauty that left the batsman off the pitch. It’s a battle that’s made for prime-time viewing and should be one of the highlights of this series.
Dean Elgar vs James Anderson
In a County Championship match early in the season, Elgar made a century for Somerset against Anderson’s Lancashire. It was virtually a lone hand, a display of all that is good about Elgar - especially his grittiness. Perhaps more than at any stage in his 35-match Test career Elgar will be a target for the opposition, given he’ll be skipper at Lord’s and was one of the best batsmen last summer. Anderson is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but remains,especially in English conditions, a masterful operator where his late sing and control of the Duke ball is almost second-to-none.
Quinton de Kock vs Moeen Ali
Blame New Zealand and particularly Jeetan Patel for the impression that De Kock now struggles against off-spin. Patel dismissed De Kock in both innings of the first Test in March. However it also matters that De Kock played a match-winning knock in the second Test against the Black Caps. Still England will have noticed that he was not comfortable against Patel and get Moeen, who’s better than a part-time offie but certainly not in the category of a Harbhajan Singh, to try and get under De Kock’s skin.