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A draw not impossible at flatter Oval





The Proteas go to The Oval for the third test match a lot more assured and confident than they were before the second test at Trent Bridge last week. The magnificent victory during that second test match restored confidence within the touring squad and breathed new life into a tour that threatened to derail after the loss at Lord's during the first test.

The Oval, scene for the third test will bring back happy memories for South Africa. On their previous visit, they defeated England convincingly. Having said that, the Proteas will be only too aware that The Oval will be vastly different to the seamer-friendly conditions experienced at Trent Bridge during the second test. Generally, The Oval is a flatter surface that favours batsmen and tends to turn as the match progresses. It has been hot in England lately which will accentuate the above-mentioned conditions.

England will enjoy some respite from the kind of seamer-friendly surface they experienced at Trent Bridge. South Africa revel under those sort of conditions and outplayed England in every department. The English batsmen, in particular, struggled to cope with the pressure of a South African bowling attack that exploited every single bit of help that was on offer at Trent Bridge.

So England will be hoping for conditions similar to Lord's where the surface offered the quicker bowlers very little as the match progressed. The lack of pace and seam movement at Lord's during the first test masked the technical deficiencies of the England batsmen who will be hoping for similar bland conditions for this test.

The turning ball will also bring the England spinners back into the match. At Trent Bridge, they were out-bowled by the highly impressive Keshav Maharaj who was superior to the England spin bowlers in every aspect of that match.

The England coaching staff and selectors have been under the pump since the Lord's defeat. The injury to Gary Ballance has meant that England will have to make a change in the top six for the upcoming test. Mark Stoneman from Surrey and Tom Westley from Essex have been named as possible replacements. They average 34 and 37 respectively in first-class cricket.

England are desperately searching for a quality right-hander in the top four. Stoneman probably deserves selection after an excellent season so far on the county circuit but he is yet another lefthander in the plethora of left-handers in the England team. It is well known by now that both Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel bowl well to left-handers so the England selectors may be leaning towards Tom Westley who is right-handed. They could select both Westley and Mark Stoneman if they leave out Keaton Jennings but this is unlikely. Jennings has struggled this summer but it does appear as if the England selectors will give him another opportunity at The Oval.

England have two problems in the bowling department as well. Left-arm spinner Liam Dawson has been unimpressive during the first two test matches and the selectors may be wise to include wrist spinner Adil Rashid alongside Moeen Ali. Rashid is a more attacking option. He also bats better than Dawson which makes him an attractive option.

Seam bowler Mark Wood hasn't been up to the mark either. He is, however, a good bowler under flat conditions which is expected at The Oval. There should be reverse swing available during this test and once that happens Wood might come into his own. In general, the England selection policy has been pretty conservative so it won't be a surprise if they make just the one enforced change which will be replacing Balance with either Stoneman or Westly.

South Africa have none of these problems. Selection for them is straightforward. Kagiso Rabada will come back into the team after serving his one match suspension. He will replace Duanne Olivier. The Proteas are expected to continue with the six specialist batting policy that worked so well at Lord's. This means that Quinton de Kock will bat in the top six. I thought four was a bit high for him during that second test match. Hopefully, captain Faf du Plessis will move up to four with De Kock moving to five which will give him a bit more respite after keeping wicket should South Africa spend a long time in the field.

Fortunes have fluctuated between the two teams during the first two test matches. At The Oval, under flatter conditions, the teams should be more evenly matched with a draw not out of the question. However, in the modern game anything can happen and happen quickly so predicting an outcome for this one isn't easy.


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