New England captain Joe Root got off to the perfect start by leading his team to a comfortable 211-run victory over South Africa in his first test in charge. But delight quickly turned to despair as South Africa were resurgent in the second test, levelling the series with a dominant victory of their own. Root watched on as the tourists wrapped up a 340-run victory, and the series now appears finely balance indeed.
Bookmakers have released lines for the final score in the four-test series and the favourite is 2-2, which is 3/1 with Sky Bet, Bet Victor and Betwaty. Next up is 2-1 to England, meaning they would have to draw one and win the other, at 10/3 with Ladbrokes, followed by 3-1 to England (7/2 with Stan James), 2-1 to South Africa (6/1 with Ladbrokes), 3-1 to South Africa (8/1 with Stan James) and a 1-1 draw (12/1 with Bet365 and various others). So it is looking very tight.
The third test starts on July 27 at The Oval and England will be looking to put the horror show of Trent Bridge behind them and recapture the magic of the first test. Changes are afoot, with Essex batsman Tom Westley set to make his England debut in place of the injured Gary Ballance and uncapped Middlesex batsman Dawid Malan also brought into the fold. Westley has enjoyed a strong season with Essex in Division One, averaging 53, and fans will hope he can convert that form into success for his country. He hit 106 not out for England Lions against a full-strength South Africa attack at Worcester last month, so he certainly has the pedigree and experience to make a difference in this test.
But England will need to be greatly improved across the batting order if they are to recapture the initiative in this series. Their battling line-up was dissembled with ease by the South Africa attack in the second test, losing 10 wickets in 40 overs. Spectators looked bewildered, as the South Africans’ excellence in the field was matched by England’s woefulness with the bat.
South Africa will be full of confidence after that resounding victory and the pressure will be piling onto Root. He wanted a serious test of his abilities, to be thrown in at the deep end, and now his wish has come true. England have suffered six defeats in eight matches and that 340-run reverse was arguably the worst of the lot. There is plenty of work to be done, and South Africa will clearly be no pushover. They have been galvanised by the return of Faf du Plessis, while Chris Morris was on fire in the second test and will be one of the first names on the sheet for the Oval showdown after his cool dispatching of Root and Alastair Cook.
But there is still plenty for England fans to be optimistic about. They will be backed by boisterous home support, and easily have enough quality across the side to get back on track in the third test. Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad can destroy South Africa if they play anywhere close to their potential, while Root, Cook, Johnny Bairstow, Westley and co should be able to rack up a huge amount of runs if they maintain discipline and focus and learn from their Trent Bridge toils. England to get back on track and win this test looks a good option at 5/4 with Coral. It will take a captain’s performance from Root to inspire them, and he looks an interesting bet at 23/10 on Betfair to be England’s top batsman.