Ed Hawkins needs more evidence that England don't require toss help when they face in Johannesburg from Friday
"Are South Africa bad enough not to warrant support even with the toss in their favour? This series, like many before, has relied on the coin flip splitting moderate teams"
South Africa v England
Friday 24 January 08.00
TV: live on Sky Sports
South Africa in a slump
South Africa are in a sorry state. They have lost seven of their last eight Tests and the innings defeat at Port Elizabeth was barely a competitive contest.
Faf Du Plessis, the captain, looks set to play his final Test while Vernon Philander definitely will. Both appear to have gone on too long, not through choice but by lack of alternative. Du Plessis looks shot while Philander has had a poor series. Their batting is painfully weak and it will hardly be nourished by Temba Bavuma replacing Zubayr Hamza. Bavuma averages 31 and has one century in 39 Tests.
The biggest blow is the ban to Kagiso Rabada who is one of only three players of international repute (Quinton de Kock and Dean Elgar the others). His place is likely to go to Beuran Hendricks, an out-and-out quick. South Africa then must rely on brute pace as he joins Dane Paterson and Anrich Nortje.
Possible XI Malan, Elgar, Bavuma, Du Plessis, Van Der Dussen, De Kock, Philander, Maharaj, Hendricks, Nortje, Paterson
England should stick with same XI
Jofra Archer is set to make himself available for selection following an elbow injury. But should England be making changes to a team which was so dominant at St George's Park? Surely not.
Archer would come in for Sam Curran or Stuart Broad but it seems harsh in the extreme to drop one of those two. Curran was miserly in the first-innings while Broad's experience should not be underestimated in a young squad. Broad's burst to finish off the South Africa tail swung the game decisively in England's favour.
Naturally, the likes of Dom Bess and Ollie Pope have pinched the headlines. A maiden five-wicket haul and century respectively suggests the future is rosy. Pope seems to have the talent and temperament to break into the top five of all-time England runscorers.
In time, Pope will move up from his No 6 position to take on a more dominant role but England should give him at least another ten-15 Tests tin the slot to get him bedded in.
Possible XI Crawley, Sibley, Denly, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Curran, Bess, Wood, Broad
Pacers to take charge
Johannesburg has a reputation for being one of the quickest venues in the world, largely because the ball travels faster through the air at altitude. The last five first-innings scores (most recent first, 1-2 denote match won by team batting first or second) read: 313-2/426-1/187-1/488-1/266-1.
It has been a bit of a terror track in the study period. India won with 187 batting first in 2017 in an infamous Test. The uneven bounce was so extreme that there were murmurs of the game being abandoned.
Last year Duanne Olivier and Rabada combined to raze Pakistan, who landed some blows of their own. There were only two fifties in the first two innings. In the two domestic games at Jo'burg this season bat was utterly dominant in a two-innings draw in December and the pacers took charge of a contest in October.
Unconvinced by England
The question we have to ask ourselves before betting is this: are South Africa in such a slump that significant trends are to be ignored?
Chiefly, are they bad enough not to warrant support even with the toss in their favour? This series, like many before, has relied on the coin flip splitting moderate teams. Batting last on a wearing fourth-innings wicket, particularly one which has a reputation for assisting bowlers, should be a leveller. Five of the last eight Tests at the venue have been won by the side batting first.
As important is English consistency. Their success in PE was only their third back-to-back away win in ten years against top opposition. They last won three on the spin in 2004 against West Indies. It is entirely possible that South Africa are in a similar state of decline to that WI vintage.
Odds help us make up our mind. When perusing them it should be pretty clear that England are no 1.8910/11 shots without the comfort rug of batting first. If the flip goes their way, and only if it does, they are value at around 1.738/11. It will be a while before they transition to a team which can be trusted at pre-toss odds without pitch assistance. Certainly longer than just two Tests.
South Africa are 4.2016/5. If the market is not swayed by them batting first we would recommend a small interest in those odds in the belief that the Hendricks-Paterson-Nortje battery has enough potency to reduce the gulf.
For more analysis on the Fourth Test from Ed and Cricinfo's Andrew Miller listen to Cricket...Only Bettor
Faith in Pope
Four points have been lopped off Pope's top bat price since he landed as an 8/1 winner at Newlands. Never again will he be as big. Ben Stokes, who went through a similar transformation last summer, albeit taking a bit longer, has never been as skinny as 7/2 (Sportsbook) before. Arguably they are both value as Joe Root remains a stinker of a bet at 11/4 and it will take a long time for that to change.
Elgar is 7/2 for top South Africa bat with De Kock and Du Plessis both 4/1. None average more than mid-30s at Jo'burg. Rassie van der Dussen and Bavuma, both on their home ground, are 9/2 and 5/1 respectively.
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. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
Back South Africa batting first 4.03/1 or better (0.5pts)