Is England v South Africa a series we should care about?

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It’s the fun question that now launches all series and tournaments: “Why should I care about this?” When there’s wall-to-wall cricket, nothing can be taken for granted – these days you have to take the time to work out which matches actually matter.

No matter how seriously a team says it’s taking a game, sometimes player unavailability tells you that isn’t really the case. When players prioritise other cricket, are rested for future engagements or are operating at half capacity following a heavy run of fixtures, it’s probably not a match you should care about.

Few fixtures are unaffected in this day and age. The question is to what degree and where do you yourself choose to draw the line?

We would argue that the England v South Africa Tests are worth caring about.

You could make a pretty good All-Time Born-in-South-Africa England XI if you had the inclination (and doubtless plenty have). You might be a little light on bowling, but the batting would be solid. But while we’re past the days of Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior in the same England team, the tourists are still struggling to keep international standard cricketers from spilling out of the national setup.

Players prematurely retiring from some international format or other still feels like a relatively new or novel phenomenon for England, but it’s simply part of the game for South Africa. Franchises, counties and other countries have all frequently proven more appealing employers than Cricket South Africa. Yet somehow they’ve always retained an incredible ability to overcome this.

Look through this South Africa Test squad and it doesn’t seem hugely intimidating, but we wouldn’t confuse unfamiliarity with weakness (even if injuries to key players have diminished it further).

As just one example, it was only on Boxing Day that we got our first sighting of ganglatron all-rounder Marco Jansen as a South Africa player. This is what South Africa do. They unearth new people.

If you don’t believe us, just check the World Test Championship table. South Africa are top, while England are seventh.

So the tourists should be decently strong and decently keen to win the series too – because if there’s one thing you can still count on in international cricket, it’s that pretty much everyone wants to beat bloody England.

For their part, England, under Ben Stokes, have recovered enthusiasm for the longer format to the extent that Test spots again seem the most coveted by the players.

So while this is likely to become a depressingly familiar series preview format in the years to come, in this instance at least… yeah, we probably should care about this one.

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  1. South Africa’s near-first-choice touring attack (minus Rabada but now plus Olivier compared with the XI likely to take the field tomorrow) just got torn to shreds by England B; so murderous was the treatment that innocent eyes had to be shielded. Presumably they will now bowl out the Eng test XI for 106.

  2. Go on then.

    1. Strauss
    2. Compton, N
    3. Trott
    4. Pietersen
    5. Smith, R
    6. Lamb
    7. Prior
    8. D’Oliveira, B
    9. Greig, T
    10. Curran, T
    11. Dernbach

    Twelfthers: Jennings

    Short on bowling, admittedly.

      1. Well, its the number 1 team in the WTC table vs (ugh, I really dislike the name) Bazball. A must watch/follow/whatever

  3. Bazball (urgh) has been neutered by the simple action of asking us to bat first. One weird tip… England fans hate him etc etc. At least the start of the series puts an end to that tedious back’n’forth ‘Bantz’ between Stokes and Elgar.

  4. World alliterative XI

    1. Graham Gooch *
    2. Gordon Greenidge
    3. Rameez Raja
    4. Colin Cowdrey
    5. Steve Smith
    6. Richie Richardson
    7. Robert ‘Jack’ Russell +
    8. Bishan Bedi
    9. Malcolm Marshall
    10. Patrick Patterson
    11. Muttiah Muralitharan

    Standby squad members: Gary Gilmore, Mitchell Marsh, Tatenda Taibu, Pat Pocock, Agit Agarkar, Billy Bremner, Thomas Tuchel, Tanita Tikaram, Nicholas Nickelby, Sporty Spice, Ade Admondson, Roland Rat.

    Yes, I’m off sick and bored to death. Why do you ask.

    1. Rhyming names next please. Ishan Kishan… there are others.

      Or killer opening partnership or wicket combos we’re yet to enjoy e.g. Hammond + Organ, Salt + Pepper, Cook/Cook/Cooke, Stokes/Woakes/Foakes etc. Maybe the 100 can be useful at last and bring some of these into being.

      Get well soon!

      1. Ok, some classic ‘match-ups’.

        Pepper v Salt
        Hammond v Organ
        Key v Lock
        Lara v Croft
        Stewart v Lee
        Elgar v Strauss
        Onions v Mustard
        Laurence v Olivier
        Cook v Lamb
        Gregory v Porter
        Overton v Windows
        Cockbain v Dickwella

        That’s enough pain relief for today I think.

  5. Collingwood said “we don’t expect consistency from Zak”. They’ll be disappointed then.

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