England will have renewed confidence after beating South Africa for the first time this summer to level the scores at 1-1 with two games to go in the series. Despite that, the tourists remain favourites at a best price of 5/6 to claim the fourth match which starts at Lords tomorrow (9.45am BST, Sunday, Sept 2).
England’s bowlers set up the result at the Kia Oval by dismissing the visitors for a sub-par 211 and a victory by four wickets with two overs to spare might suggest that the win was comfortable. However, there were stages when England’s batsmen looked extremely nervous after man of the match Eoin Morgan’s dismissal and the victory was not quite as clear cut as mere statistics would suggest.
Hashim Amla remains one of the main obstacles to England’s victory and after scoring 150 in the second match at the Ageas Bowl, the home side would have been relieved when Jade Dernbach removed his leg stump early on Friday. Amla had still managed to top score for his side with 43 but when you consider how prolific the opener has been this summer, it was a truly vital wicket.
Dernbach himself was another important factor in England’s win and while James Anderson mopped up the tail to turn in the best figures on the day, it was the Surrey man who took the vital wickets of Amla and Dean Elgar before adding Wayne Parnell to his list of scalps.
James Tredwell, stepping in for the rested Graeme Swann, also played a major part in dismissing JP Duminy and AB De Villiers, both of whom contributed to their own downfall with ill-judged shots.
If England are to maintain that momentum, their new-look bowling attack will have to continue to be at their best to restrict the South Africans. The home side may have won at The Oval, but if they had been forced to chase more than 250, it could have been a different outcome.
In recent years, the England selectors have been transformed into a stubborn bunch but there are continuing calls for the panel to find a place in this side for Jonny Bairstow. The Yorkshireman has been in fine form in the England test side and also for his county in one day cricket yet he continues to be overlooked.
An obvious option would be to bring in Bairstow as a straight replacement for Ravi Bopara who has struggled for runs at the start of this series. Bopara made a five ball duck at the Oval although he was given out caught behind in controversial circumstances, believing that he hadn’t edged the ball.
Ravi can also bowled useful overs and his 1-31 on Friday included the wicket of Faf Du Plessis so his place in the side seems assured. That leaves England with the option of replacing Craig Kieswetter, who made 14 in the game and whose wicket keeping continues to come in for criticism.
This really is the only selection dilemma for England while South Africa seem certain to field an unchanged side despite that defeat.
Alastair Cook’s men have finally proved that they can beat the talented tourists but I expect South Africa’s batsmen to improve tomorrow and if they do, they will once again be too strong for the hosts.
Betting Tip: South Africa to win at biggest available betting odds of 5/6 with Stan James Bookmaker