England v South Africa
Thursday June 6 11.00
Live on Sky Sports 2
All change. Joe Root will captain for the first time following Alastair Cook's resignation - which now seems like eons ago. He will, according to Stuart Broad, have to learn on the job considering his paucity of captaincy experience.
There are other tweaks. The injury to Chris Woakes, an all-rounder who held the balance of the side together like super glue, means England want someone who can fulfil a similar role. So that means Liam Dawson, who suffered in his Test debut in India, retains his place. He pips Toby Roland-Jones on his home ground.
Otherwise Broad and James Anderson are passed fit for what could be the last home hurrah for England's most potent pace combination. Cook and Keaton Jennings will open the batting. Gary Ballance is at No.4 filling the bars until Ben Stokes comes in to empty them.
Another team in a state of flux. At least in the batting. There is no AB De Villiers or Faf Du Plessis, two of their most reliable runscorers.
De Villiers' Test career is as good as over and he is expected to announce his retirement from the longform in August. Du Plessis has remained at home following the "difficult" birth of his child.
So Dean Elgar will lead in Du Plessis' absence. His obduracy combined with Hashim Amla's rock-like formation in the opening berths is key to protecting a soft top order. Heino Kuhn and Temba Bavuma face a baptism of fire.
JP Duminy is a bit more of that glue we spoke about. Quinton De Kock's master blaster potential could come off in spectacular fashion lower down. Or not.
The first-innings average in the last 13 Tests is 394. But England have a habit of punishing touring teams with the bat here, save for last summer's defeat by Pakistan. Before that match (and Australia's 566 in 2015, by the way) the home team's average was 423 compared to visitor sides' 282.
We will take a punt on South Africa here at [3.95]. And it is most definitely a punt because of our concerns over their batting line-up. They could well be swung out cheaply.
But what they lack with the bat they make up with the ball. Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel is an attack tailor-made for English conditions and, indeed, Lord's where it bends. After all, South Africa wrecked England batting in the one-day international.
We strongly believe the ability to take 20 wickets is the most important and South Africa match up well to England in this regard. So they are the value pick.
England are gambling on Dawson and Moeen Ali as two spinners. Punchy. Perhaps they have been influenced by Yasir Shah's ten last year. It could well be a masterstroke.
We have discussed the series odds at length here and were leaning towards South Africa because of their bowling holding up well. But for this game it is true that we are counting on England being a little unsure in a new era in a ground they have been unsure on in the last two years.
Cook, who has been in good form for Essex, top scored against Pakistan last summer. He is [4.0]. free from the burden of captaincy nothing would surprise us if he bedded down for a big one. Root is [4.0], Ballance [6.0] and Stokes [8.8]. We would expect a few clicks added to the last two as the market settles.
Amla is 11/4 with Sportsbook. He averages 75 in England as his game is perfectly suited to conditions. And it is arguable he has little to beat with Du Plessis and De Villiers absence. Kuhn at least has experience of English conditions, albeit in A matches. He is 5/1. Elgar is 7/2. De Kock comes in at 11/2.
South Africa [3.95] (1pt)
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017.
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