The thing with previews is that it is open for speculation and that it can make one look like an idiot afterwards. It happened to the English press after the Oval test. The one thing that is not speculation at all but solid fact is that England will not underestimate the Proteas at Headingley; not again. The opposite might be the case: the Proteas might underestimate the English and that would be a massive mistake as this English team is, regardless of the Oval-experience, a seriously good one. I doubt that the Proteas will underestimate their opponents and trust that the Oval will be buried in the second layers of South African’s memories when they take the field in the second test.
With the Olympic Games taking place in and around London; the second test in the current Basil D’Oliveira-Trophy Series between England and South Africa, starting today at Headingley can as well be regarded as the battle for gold and silver in international cricket.
Headingley in Leeds was established in 1890 and is home to Yorkshire.
In 1955 South Africa defeated England with 224 runs in its last outing at Headingley before isolation. After that Apartheid and the Basil D’Oliveira-debacle put a temporary halt to South Africa’s international presence in cricket.
In 1994, after readmission, the two countries again met at Headingley and drew the test.
In August 1998 England defeated the Proteas with 23 runs in a low scoring game.
In August 2003 South Africa re-established its supremacy at Headingley by defeating England with 191 runs.
In July 2008 the Proteas downed England with 10 wickets in the Headingley-test after England was bowled out for 203 in its first innings. The Proteas responded with a superb 522 after Ashwell Prince (149) and AB de Villiers (174) shared a partnership of 212. England mustered 327 in their second innings, forcing the Proteas to score 9 runs for a famous victory. For that test England selected 5 specialist batters, a wicket-keeper and 5 bowlers. Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, KP Pietersen and Ian Bell all played in that team; as did Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
In August 2009 Australia defeated England with more than an innings at Headingley after the hosts were bowled out for 102 runs in their first innings. Eight of the 11 players who lost to the Proteas at the Kia Oval in the current series played in that test: Strauss, Cook, Ravi Bopara, Bell, Matt Prior, Broad, Graeme Swann and Anderson.
Whilst England had its share of problems at Headingley it became somewhat of a happy hunting ground for the Proteas. Since readmission they played 4 games there, winning 2, losing 1 and drawing the other.
Traditionally Headingley has good carry and bounce but being one down in a three match series it is difficult to guess what pitch England ordered.
If England looses the test they lose the series. They cannot afford to opt for a docile pitch. They cannot opt for a batter’s paradise. They need to give their bowlers a fair chance to capture 20 wickets.
England desperately needs to win the Headingley-test to still stand a chance to win or draw the series which will see them remaining the number one test team in the world.
However, after the Oval-test and the failure of their pace men and spinners the hosts will be in two minds on how to beat the Proteas.
England might feel that their bowling woes are worse than their batting nightmares and will probably opt for an extra bowler in Steven Finn.
If they do it might work against them as a lively wicket will create even more potential for damage by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Jacques Kallis. It is a tough decision made worse by the loss of form by Graeme Swann and the fact that he was almost humiliated by the Protea’s batsmen at the Oval.
England probably needed Monty Panesar at the Oval but at Headingley two spinners is not an option.
The Proteas won’t change any of their winning plans and formulas; although they might be slightly worried about the form of Alviro Petersen, JP Duminy and Jacques Rudolph. None of them were overly convincing in the warm up game against Worcestershire last week.
Weather-wise rain is expected and it will be a surprise if 5 days of uninterrupted play materialise.
With rain looming and a semi lively pitch to contend with Graeme Smith might probably opt to use whatever advantages their might be for the bowlers on day 1. If he wins the toss he will be tempted to bowl.
Even if the pitch is not as lively as expected Dale and mates still have the upper hand over the English bowlers. They will still fancy themselves to bowl England out for less than 300. If they do the table is set for Proteas to again mount up the runs in the best batting conditions in tests: days 2 and 3.
If England wins the toss and order the Proteas to bat first, the visitors must repeat the plan that served them well at the Oval: defend, see of the new ball and build partnerships.
After bowling more than 180 overs at the Oval the English bowlers, especially Broad, Anderson and Tim Bresnan will struggle in their third and further spells.
If the Proteas can pass 60 overs with only two or three down in their first innings they will probably set themselves up for a series victory.