South Africa vs England – First Test: Preview, pitch report and betting tips

South Africa vs England: The first Test between the Proteas and the touring England side gets underway at Supersport Park in Centurion on Boxing Day (26 December).

Neither side have enjoyed ideal preparations with the England camp beset by illness while the Proteas saw a revolution in management and have been unable to play any first-class cricket to warm-up for the Test series.

South Africa vs England – the tourists

England have had Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Jack Leach all laid out by a virus but in the plus column James Anderson appears to be back to full fitness and recovering his best form to boot.

Leach was always unlikely to play on a surface that can be very harsh on spinners, although someone forgot to tell Ravichandran Ashwin that when India visited Centurion in 2018. The Three Lions are likely to lean on the part-time offies of skipper Joe Root and batting allrounder Joe Denly. Denly struck a century in the warm-up to just about seal his place in the XI.

Somerset duo Dominic Bess and Craig Overton were called into the squad as cover for the ill bowlers, but a decision will only be made on the XI on the day to give Archer and Broad a chance to prove their fitness.

The form of reserve wicketkeeper Ollie Pope creates a selection quandary for England with Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow also sniffing round. Buttler is likely to play and take the gloves while Pope might get a spot as a specialist batsman ahead of Bairstow.

Key Player: Ben Stokes

Stokes match-winning abilities seem to have peaked this year but his form in New Zealand suggest that he will be a danger to the Proteas with bat and ball.

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South Africa vs England: England batsman Ben Stokes picks up runs during day one of the 3 day practice match between South Africa A and England at Willowmoore Park on December 20, 2019 in Benoni, South Africa. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

South Africa vs England – the hosts

Appointing a new head coach (team director) just ten days before the start of a Test series hardly constitutes solid preparation although it came as a mild relief for SA cricket fans.

The squad is a mixture of established faces and franchise performers being given a chance to show they can make the step up to Test cricket. 

The six uncapped players in the squad are not youngsters and sport plenty of first-class experience.

The selection of Rudi Second as backup keeper might open the door for Quinton de Kock to play as a specialist batsman and perhaps move up to number four.

Key Player: Faf du Plessis

The skipper has a lot of work to do as the leader of the Proteas and the glue that holds the top order together, he needs to provide the foil for the strokemakers around him to flourish.

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South Africa vs England: Faf du Plessis (capt) of South Africa during day 1 of the 2nd Castle Lager Test match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at St George’s Park on February 21, 2019 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Pitch report

Supersport Park 

Capacity: 22,000    

Floodlights : Yes    

Ends : Pavilion End, Hennops River End    

Home team : The Multiply Titans    

Tests Played: 21 (16 home wins, 2 away wins 3 draws)

– Win batting 1st: 7

– Win batting 2nd: 10

Originally named Centurion Park, SuperSport Park, the home of Northerns ( formerly Northern Transvaal), is in easy access of Johannesburg, Midrand and Pretoria. It was the only sports ground in the world which gave its name to a municipality: Centurion. It is one of only a few privately owned stadia in South Africa, having been bought back from the Centurion City Council in more recent years.

One of the newer stadiums and Test venues in South Africa it has been described by various international captains as “One of the grounds with the best players’ facilities in the world”. The stadium’s appeal is the grass embankments which make up a large part of the seating area, ideal for good family cricket watching. Beach Cabana type hospitality chalets have been erected high on the grass banks for added corporate viewing pleasure. A pavilion at the north end of the ground completes the 22,000 spectator capacity.

Centurion Park made its debut as a provincial venue during the 1986/1987 season. The stadium staged its first test match between South Africa and Mike Atherton’s England team during the 1995/1996 season.

Twenty-one years on from that historic match and the stadium’s event list has gone from strength to strength. It has played host to major global sporting occassions such as the ICC World Cup in 2003 which included the historical match between India and Pakistan and has shown its versatility as a venue by hosting concerts by Pavarotti amongst others.

SuperSport Park has a minimum seated capacity of 17 500, including 69 hospitality suites, 32 embankment suites and 40 wheelchair spaces.

Supersport Park was a venue for 2003 Cricket World Cup and Indian Premier League 2009 which took place in South Africa. It was also selected as a venue for ICC Champions Trophy 2009 and hosted the final on 5 October 2009, one of the greatest achievements for this stadium.

The ground also saw Sachin Tendulkar score his 50th test century.

It hosted an Australian Rules practice match in 2008 between Carlton and Fremantle.

The Pitch

Known for being one of the quicker pitches in South Africa, it also gives plenty of opportunity to batsmen, with the ball generally coming onto the bat. It has never been seen as a spinners paradise. The outfield is level, lush and fast with a drainage system on par with any in the world.

Conventional wisdom says the skipper who wins the toss should bat first to get the best use of the surface.

South Africa vs England – Betting tips

England sport two in-form but unfashionable batsmen in Denly and Pope and both can earn you a tidy purse as their team’s top-scorers.

Given South Africa’s struggles against off-spin in recent times and the Supersport Park wicket’s propensity to take spin Denly could also be a shrewd punt for leading wicket-taker in the third or fourth innings.

With Temba Bavuma ruled out and Aiden Markram injured Second is in contention for a debut and has shown in the past that he can be dangerous in pressure situations, he could be worth backing as the Proteas top-scorer.

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