By Jonny Gould ,AFP
Although England has already won the series, the fourth test against South Africa offers some incentive for both sides — pride for the hosts and places in the team for the tourists.
England took an unassailable 2-O lead in the series by winning the third test by seven wickets last Saturday at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, its first series victory over South Africa in 11 years.
The final test starts Friday at Centurion.
Many of England’s runs in the series have come from the three middle order batsmen: Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. They are averaging 58, 73.60 and 115 runs, respectively, and their form has been a key factor in England’s successes.
The three go about scoring their runs in different ways, highlighted by the innings in which Bairstow and Stokes put on a record-breaking sixth wicket partnership of 399. While Stokes bludgeoned 30 fours and 11 sixes in his 258, Bairstow complemented him with a more measured approach to his 150 not out. The two worked perfectly in tandem to dominate the South African bowling and serve as an example of the power of the English batting through the series.
One aspect of the fourth test will be whether Alex Hales is able to perform at the top of the order and retain his place in the test side ahead of Sri Lanka’s visit to England in the summer.
“A lot of runs have been scored by Joe, Ben and Jonny,” Captain Alastair Cook said. “They’ve scored the majority of the runs, which is great for those guys but others haven’t quite contributed, myself included. We’ve got the opportunity to do that and I’m really looking forward to this week to see how people respond.”
For South Africa, it has been a series to forget.
“We haven’t won a test match, I think, for 12 months, so. We are rebuilding a little bit,” recently appointed captain AB De Villiers said.
South Africa’s highlights have included Hashim Amla’s 201 in Cape Town, Temba Bavuma becoming the first black South African to score a century and both Kagiso Rabada and Dane Piedt picking up five wicket hauls. Still, South Africa has failed to gel as a team and give a complete performance.
The South African bowling has suffered in contrast to the ruthlessness of the English. While Stuart Broad took 6-17 in 12.1 overs to seal the outcome of the third test, the South African pace bowlers have been unable to respond.
The difference in class is evident in the bowling averages of the top five bowlers in the series. Broad and Steven Finn average 16.46 and 26.09 runs per wicket, while Morne Morkel, Rabada and Piedt average 33.70, 37.55 and 40.66, respectively.
“They are very, very smart and very skilled,” De Villiers said.
The South African captain added: “I’m not only optimistic about this next game, but our future as well, so (we are) really going to focus on that and our strengths and how we can develop as a team.”
Cook was not fazed by De Villiers’ confidence.
“I think he is obviously trying to wind everything up to make it competitive,” he said.