The reign of Joe Root as England captain got to the best possible start at Lord’s, with a healthy 211-run lead and the two teams head to Trent Bridge on Friday with South Africa in need of a quick response if this series isn’t to run away from them.
England have been inconsistent in recent months, but their victory at Lord’s was their third in their last four Test matches, and was earned without ever having to hit top gear. Any doubts about Root’s ability to adjust to the captaincy without sacrificing his batting performance were dispelled by a superb 190 run return in the first innings, and Moeen Ali confirmed his status as a match-winning spinner by skittling out the tourists to wrap up the game.
South Africa are having a dreadful tour and though there were some positive moments at Lord’s, most notably when they had England at 76-4 in their first innings, they were comfortably beaten in the end. With Hashim Amla out of form, their batting looks pretty thin and the way they collapsed in their second innings suggested an absence of grit and determination, something that previous touring Proteas sides had in abundance.
Chris Woakes does add an extra dimension to the side with his batting ability and has returned to practice after his injury, but England are likely to remain unchanged. South Africa will be without their most dangerous bowler, Kagiso Rabada, who has been banned for an accumulation of offences, with his most likely replacement being Chris Morris. Faf Du Plessis will return to the team and slot in at four in the batting order, at the expense of J P Duminy.
Trent Bridge has been the setting for some epic Test contests over the years, not least the famous match in which Alan Donald and Mike Atherton fought out a titanic struggle.
It also has a reputation as ground that helps seam and swing bowlers. Often such reputations are undeserved, but in this case, it is borne out by the first-innings average in Nottingham, which, at 295, is a little low for five day cricket, and by the fact that in the last match played there, back in 2015, Australia were bowled out for 60. Coincidentally, the same wicket in play then will be used this time. All in all, this looks like a result venue, and England will fancy their chances at a ground where they’ve won seven of their last ten Test matches.
England are not without their weaknesses. In particular, the top order remains fragile, with Gary Balance’s place particularly uncertain. They are prone to unpredictable mid-order collapses and may be over-reliant on James Anderson and Stuart Broad. But in the short term, it is difficult to see South Africa getting back into the series without their most potent available fast bowler, at a venue where Anderson and Broad have been so prolific in the past.
The tourists will be boosted by the return of captain Faf du Plessis, and they may hope to get lucky at the toss. It is worth noting that of the last eleven Tests to lead to a conclusion at Trent Bridge, seven were won by the side that batted first, so Du Plessis will be hoping to make the right call and get off to a good start to put the English batting under pressure. But few of the South African batsmen are in form, and with a weakened attack, they don’t make much appeal, even at the odds of 4/1 available with Ladbrokes and Coral. England look a solid bet at 8/13 with 32Red and with the weather set fair, the draw is generally available at 7/2.
This is a venue where wickets are likely to tumble, particularly early on, so middle-order players look the best options to concentrate on in the Top Run Scorer markets. For England, Joe Root is a best priced 11/4 with Paddy Power, but Ben Stokes at 8/1 with Ladbrokes is an interesting option, while Quinton de Kock makes some appeal in the Top South African run scorer market at odds of 6/1 with Coral.