5 things England must do to bounce back in South Africa
England end the year without a Test series win for the first time since 1999 after losing 1-0 in New Zealand. Here's how they can recover in South Africa.
Sort out Stokes
The sight of Ben Stokes grimacing while clutching his left knee is one that has haunted England fans since 2016.
The troublesome joint has hampered the all-rounder since he underwent surgery on the issue three years ago, with the latest recurrence seeing him pull up after bowling just two overs on the first day of the second Test.
Stokes did go on to complete 25 more in the match, but was clearly not operating at full capacity as he failed to take a wicket.
The Durham star is easily England’s best player, and would be worth his place as a batsman alone.
However, his knack for taking wickets at crucial points will be key to their hopes of a first Test series win in over a year – which is why he must be wrapped in cotton wool between now and the off.
Give Sibley time
The emergence of Rory Burns as a legitimate Test opener has filled one vacancy at the top of England’s order, but another still remains.
Dominic Sibley was the standout candidate after a stunning season in the County Championship, plundering 1,324 runs and five centuries at an average of nearly 70, with no other player even passing four figures.
But the 24-year-old is yet to bring that form to the Test arena, registering scores of 22, 12 and four in New Zealand.
Calls for him to be axed are premature, however. You cannot judge someone’s ability after just two matches.
Patience is key with Sibley. His technique may be unorthodox, but so is Burns’ – and it’s not like that has held back Steve Smith and others.
Leave Ali alone
Jack Leach’s struggles in New Zealand will have many clamouring for Moeen Ali’s return to the Test side, but England must resist temptation.
Ali is clearly their best option as we head towards the 2021/22 Ashes, but bringing him back from his self-imposed exile too early could threaten that.
The all-rounder has said he is enjoying his stint in franchise cricket, appearing in the Mzansi Super League and the Abu Dhabi T10 League during recent weeks.
England have four Test series to negotiate next year and several more in 2021, so there is plenty of time for Ali to slot back in before they head Down Under.
Leach is a more-than-able placeholder, while Matt Parkinson, still awaiting his Test debut, offers an interesting alternative with his leg spin.
Bring Anderson back
Another collapse in the first Test means that England’s batting continues to be scrutinised, but their bowling attack also struggled in New Zealand.
Jofra Archer took just two wickets across two Tests. Stuart Broad got four. And, although Chris Woakes impressed in his one match, he remains largely ineffective overseas.
England’s bowlers will get more help from the South African pitches, but the return of James Anderson has still come at a perfect time.
If he comes through a couple of warm-up matches unscathed, then reinstating him in Centurion is a no-brainer.
Selectors should also consider recalling Mark Wood, who has suffered injury problems of his own, with England’s bowling attack far stronger when both players fit.
Recall Ben Foakes
England seemed relaxed about the prospect of Ollie Pope stepping in for the injured Jos Buttler behind the stumps in Hamilton, but picking an experienced back-up keeper was a mistake.
Pope kept tidily enough, but his inexperience showed when dropping Kane Williamson down the leg side on the final day, and a move down to No. 7 in the order shouldn’t be an option for a player that has been highlighted as a future star.
Buttler is likely to recover in time for the first Test in Centurion, but England must bring in another gloveman to provide back-up, with Foakes the obvious choice.
He is by far the best keeper in the country and has a brilliant record in his five previous Tests, averaging 41.50 with the bat, including a century on debut in Sri Lanka.
Jonny Bairstow, dropped for the series in New Zealand, is another option, but his alarming lack of form over the summer means Foakes should get the nod.
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