Ed Hawkins says it's a bat-first clash at Port Elizabeth from Thursday with both sides struggling for runs...
"It should be apparent by now that these two moderate teams are well matched. And what they need to separate them is a coin flip to decide who is the unfortunate crew who have to bat last"
South Africa v England
Thursday 16 January 08:30
TV: live on Sky Sports
Settled South Africa
If South Africa are smart, they will dismiss defeat by England at Cape Town as being a result of losing the toss and having to bat last. They're not doing a whole lot wrong.
A big tick is that they are expected to keep faith with the same XI. Pieter Malan, who frustrated England on debut in the second innings, has the potential to form a strong opening partnership with Dean Elgar, Rassie van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock have been in the runs while the bowling unit is varied and potent.
The missing link are runs from Faf Du Plessis, the captain, and the No 3 Zubayr Hamza. One of these two needs to put their hand up. Du Plessis is beginning to come under pressure with no ton for a year but, in reality, there is no alternative. Allowing that sort of negative think to gather pace harms their chances.
Probable XI Malan, Elgar, Hamza, Du Plessis, Van der Dussen, De Kock, Philander, Pretorius, Maharaj, Rabada, Nortje.
Wood might pip Archer
According to the mainstream, England are only ever as good as their last results. So they were hopeless after Centurion. Now they are good following Newlands. The truth is somewhere between the two.
A Dom Sibley century, a sensible Zak Crawley and stickability from Joe Denly suddenly makes the followers reckon England have solved the top three. Not a bit of it. We need a longer study period before jumping on that bandwagon. England won the second Test because they bowled last on a wearing four-innings surface. Had the toss been different, so too the result.
In terms of personnel, they don't come into the match in as good a shape as the hosts. James Anderson, the architect of that win, is injured so does not play. Joe Root, the skipper, has been unwell. And England are likely to ignore the chance to play Jofra Archer for Mark Wood instead. Wood has been a shock bowler in ODI so this is a big step up.
Possible XI Crawley, Sibley, Denly, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, S Curran, Bess, Broad, Wood
PE helps swing
There have been seven Tests played at St George's Park in the last ten years. Six have produced results. The first-innings scores in those games (1-2 denote match won by team batting first or second, most recent first) read: 222-2/243-2/309-1/286-1/417-d/423-1/525-1.
It has a reputation as being the slowest surface in South Africa. Yet quicks have dominated in history, long and short. The sea breeze blowing across the ground has had inswingers and outswingers, depending on choice of end and style, working nicely. Anderson's absence hurts England in that regard. Still, there has been assistance for spinners. Both Keshav Maharaj and Nathan Lyon have picked up a five-wicket haul in the study period.
It should be apparent by now that these two moderate teams are well matched. And what they need to separate them is a coin flip to decide who is the unfortunate crew who have to bat last. Batting pre-toss, then, is not the smartest move as discussed in Cricket...Only Bettor this week (see below).
Unusually, both teams rate bad value. There's not much to choose between South Africa at 2.3811/8 and England at 2.3411/8. Whoever bats first will take a hefty cut, not going off much better than even money. The draw is 6.6011/2 but with only a shower or two forecast for Friday, it seems unlikely this will shorten.
South Africa have eight defeats in 11 when bowling first in the last two years and five wins in seven when batting first. All of England's five wins in the last two years away from home have come when they have batted first.
Van der Dussen catches eye
For South Africa, barnacle Elgar is the 7/2 jolly with Betfair Sportsbook, for top South Africa runscorer in the first dig. Du Plessis, who had starts in Centurion and Cape Town, is 4/1. The steely-eyed Van der Dussen, whose temperament is admirable, will be well supported at an inflated 6s considering he has impressed in both Tests.
Sibley is 9/2 for England but Ollie Pope, who copped at 8s, takes a whopping cut to 11/2. We always said the 8s wouldn't be around for long once has made a score. Denly might be considered underrated at 5/1.
For top bowler, Kagiso Rabada is the 5/2 favourite for South Africa most wickets in the first dig. Anrich Nortje, on his home ground, is 7/2. Wood, who has impressed in the nets, is 5/1 for England honours.
For more tips and insight on this week's action, check out this week's episode of Cricket...Only Bettor, filmed in the Betfair studio...
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