A strangely topsy-turvey Test series between England and South Africa, reaches its climax with the fourth and final Test at Old Trafford in Manchester starting on Friday. England carry a 2-1 series lead into the fixture, following their 239 run success at the Oval.
All three matches to date have ended in emphatic margins of victory for the winners. England having won by 211 runs at Lord’s, before the Proteas squared the series at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, where they won by a record 340 runs, before England’s overwhelming success at the Oval.
Old Trafford has certainly become a fortress for the England Test team in recent years, with the hosts winning eight of the last ten matches played at the venue, and drawing the other two. The last time that these two sides clashed in a Test match in Manchester, was way back in 1998, the game ending in a draw.
If England are to clinch the series at Old Trafford, then they have to break the strange cycle of results that prior to the win at the Oval had seen them lose the Test after each of their nine previous victories on home soil.
As well as the enjoyment of victory in the third Test, England will have been pleased with the more measured approach of a number of their batsmen, a perceived lack of application being a major lack of criticism of the side after the humbling at Trent Bridge.
Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes in particular played patient and measured innings to help their side past 350 in the first innings. Although they were undoubtedly helped by the absence of Vernon Philander from the Proteas attack for much of the time, with illness.
If there was to be a criticism of England last time out, it would be in the cautious approach of the new skipper Joe Root, who allowed his team’s second innings to drift along to over 313-8 before declaring, thereby setting his opponents close to 500 to win the game.
South Africa have had a couple of issues throughout the series.
Their opening partnership has struggled, thanks mainly due to the way in which Heino Kuhn hasn’t gotten going. However, he has got support from his coach and captain and it will be up to him to repay the faith and deliver the goods.
The other problem for South Africa has been their middle-order and the number seven player - Chris Morris. South Africa’s batting is seriously restricted because of their decision to play a bowling all-rounder at the position and in English conditions that problem has been exacerbated even more.
Morris has done his bit as the fifth bowler, but his issue has been to do with his batting. Does he fit into the side as a batsman who can do his bit at number seven. Currently, Vernon Philander is clearly the better Test batsman than him and that is where the South African batting tapers off - putting a lot of pressure on the top six and in difficult conditions too.
Will things turn around for South Africa?