They may have wrapped up the series 2-0 with a match to spare, but England will want to leave South Africa on a high heading into the domestic test cricket season which is just around the corner now.
The fourth and final test between these two sides starts on Friday January 22, and South Africa will be looking for some crumbs of consolation on a Centurion ground on which they tend to excel.
Of the last 20 tests here, they have won 15, drawn three and lost two. Eight of those were by an innings and more too; the most comprehensive form of victory in the sport. So the Proteas have got the confidence heading into this game – despite losing the series – and up against an England side that may, and may is the operative word, take their foot off the gas this could be a chance for the Africans to earn some kind of solace.
With draws making up just 15% of the last twenty tests at the ground, we’ll be looking for a result either way. Remember, the third test between these two sides was hanging on a knife-edge before Stuart Broad’s world-class spell of bowling, and so we can back South Africa at the available 6/4 knowing that they aren’t in woeful form by any means.
Run and Run
Matches at Centurion tend to be run fests. The last time England were here in 2009 more than 1200 runs were scored in the game, while the last test between the Proteas and Australia witnessed in excess of 1100 runs. So this is a fixture in which bat should dominate ball.
South Africa have two players who simply love batting here too. Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers have scored nearly 300 runs each in their last three innings at the ground, with Amla hammering the England attack to all parts in that 2009 rubber. The bearded batsman will be buoyed by the news that Steven Finn, his chief tormentor during this series, will be missing through injury, so we’ll take Amla at 10/3 to be his country’s leading run-grabber in this one.
It is the middle order batsmen that tend to flourish on this ground – perhaps due to the early innings movement that the bowlers can achieve – with two centuries being scored by number four batsmen and two by number sixes in the last two tests at Centurion. That leaves us very nicely with Joe Root or Ben Stokes to be England’s top batsman, and seeing as though he came in for us at 3/1 last time out we’ll stick with Root – with a ton and two half-centuries in his last six innings – in the market at 3/1 again.
As you can probably guess, this is not particularly a ground that the bowlers enjoy bending their back on. That said, Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson are two who have enjoyed plenty of success here recently, and so the Proteas will rue the loss of the former now more than ever. But if the ability to bowl fast and move the ball around slightly are the keys to success, then we’ll be taking Kagiso Rabada to be South Africa’s leading bowler in this test at 11/4. The 21-year-old touched speeds of 92mph in Johannesburg, and his five wicket haul in the first innings was richly deserved.
It has been a fantastic series for England in many respects, and one of the very few blips has been the form of Jimmy Anderson, who looks a long way short of his best at the moment. With the fantastic Finn missing the game through injury, the pace bowling department is a slight area of concern for the Three Lions. But Stuart Broad always seems to step up to the plate when he is the figurative leader of the attack, and we can back him even as short as 5/2 to be England’s top bowler given his exploits in the third test.
And finally, and for fear of sounding like a stuck record, we’ll be taking Ben Stokes in the Man of the Match market again at 10/1. He came in for us at 14/1 in the second test after his sublime double hundred, and with five wickets and a half-century in the last match he could have been a contender again but for the pyrotechnics from Broad and metronomic run-getting of Joe Root. Stokes is thriving with bat and ball at the moment, so this is a smart small stakes punt.