Test itinerary could favour Proteas
The first test match in every test series is always significant. It is important to start well whenever possible. In the traditional five-match test series of the past, a team could still recover from a poor start. These days however, where most test series are three-match affairs, it becomes a lot more difficult to recover from a loss in the first match. Hence the first test match between South Africa and England starting on 19 July could in many ways be the determining factor in the contest.
In an odd sort of way, it may just work to the Proteas' advantage that the first test match will be played at the Oval. Traditionally South Africa, like many of the other major test-playing nations, has struggled at the Oval. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, the Oval test has traditionally been the last test of a series, so touring teams tend to be suffering from player fatigue and find the final test match of an England tour a tough hurdle to overcome.
Secondly, England revels under the conditions that prevail at the Oval. Their pattern of play has been very successful at a ground that has been kind to them over many years from a results point of view.
The advantage for the Proteas of starting the series at the Oval is that they will be energetic and highly motivated for success. This time the Oval challenge won’t come at the end of an arduous tour but rather at the beginning, when the excitement of being in England is still fresh. Hopefully they will be acclimatised to English conditions by then as well.
Make no mistake – it will still be a daunting task to turn around the poor results from the past at this ground, but not quite as difficult as encountering the same challenge at the end of the tour.
The second test match moves to Headingley. This ground is famous for the wrong reasons in the minds of many South African cricket supporters. This was the site of that infamous test match where South Africa, under the leadership of Hansie Cronje, got robbed through some extraordinary umpiring decisions. The Proteas were poised for victory in that match only to be cruelly denied. This led to England squaring the series and going on to clinch it, following a victory in the last test. The Proteas have nothing to fear from a test match at Headingley.
There is no doubt that since readmission, Lord’s has been a favourite hunting ground for South African teams. The Proteas have saved some of their best performances for the home of cricket. This time the last test will be played there. Ideally South Africa would love to be at least level in the contest going into the last match of this key series. Being one test up when facing England at Lord's will be a bonus.
The recipe for the tour is to start strongly at the Oval with a win or a solid draw, then gain momentum at Headingley and finish off in style at Lords. That will be the perfect plan.