The Three Lions hold a slender 1-0 series lead heading into this third test at the Wanderers Stadium, and fortunately for Alistair Cook’s men any momentum that South Africa would have taken from their dominant display in the drawn second test will have all been wiped out by the near fortnight gap between that encounter and this.
This looks a particularly hard match to call given the proximity in ability of the two sides, and the recent history at this ground teaches us little as well. Okay, so only two of the last fourteen tests here have ended in a draw – this is the definition of a ‘result pitch’ – and so we can count this out of our thinking.
Of that fourteen South Africa have won six and lost six, and so they don’t have a particularly formidable record here. In the modern era the home team tends to dominate, so that could be considered a little surprising. It’s obvious we can’t read too much into the Wanderers’ unique set of conditions as a marker for our bets, and so we’ll give the outright market a wide berth.
England will be pleased that Dale Steyn, who took seven wickets in the Proteas’ innings and 74 run thumping of the Three Lions at this ground back in 2010, will be missing due to the shoulder injury that kept him out of the second test. While Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris were solid enough replacements in that encounter, they clearly lack the guile and craft of the 32-year-old.
Instead Morne Morkel will spearhead the attack once again, and he has happy memories of playing England at the Wanderers having pocketed seven wickets against them there six years ago. He is a sensible bet at 9/4 to be the leading South African bowler once again.
The Proteas only needed to bat once in that test match to assert their dominance, and the good news is that two of the batsmen that contributed 200 runs between them to South Africa’s total of 423-7 – Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher – have now retired. The bad news is that Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers, two prime operators very much in form, scored 75 and 58 respectively in that encounter. Given that he has been unburdened of the captaincy, take Amla at 10/3 to punish the England bowlers once again in the Top South African Batsman bracket.
Ben Stokes was England’s standout performer in Cape Town, and Jonny Bairstow finally lived up to his undoubted potential with a fantastic century. But it’s Joe Root who is going under the radar slightly at the moment with two half centuries in four innings on this tour, and surely a big score is just around the corner. At 3/1 we can take him to be England’s leading willow wielder; particularly as Alistair Cook struggled against Morkel at Wanderers last time – the South African dismissing him twice for 21 and 1 respectively.
It’s much harder to predict who is likely to be England’s Top Bowler in this fixture, with both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad struggling in that 2010 test here in the face of a South African onslaught. Spin is unlikely to be a factor given what has gone before at this ground, so perhaps Steve Finn (3/1) is the smart pick. He is similar in stature to Morkel, who has enjoyed so much success here, and the lanky paceman looks in good shape at the moment.