After a seemingly endless wait, the first Test of the English summer is almost upon us, with England finally kicking off their Test series against South Africa on Thursday. The Basil d’Olivera trophy is up for grabs over four matches, starting with the first game at Lord’s, the home of cricket.
Both sides had disappointing ICC Champions Trophy campaigns, although England can at least take some comfort from winning both the ODI and T20I series 2-1 against the Proteas earlier in the summer. For the South Africans, however, this series is the last chance to take something positive out of a long, arduous and to-date rather unsuccessful tour of the British Isles.
South Africa are currently ranked 2nd in the ICC Test team rankings, with England two places behind in fourth. A series win for the hosts however will see them leapfrog Australia into third place.
Form wise, England’s last Test encounter saw them fall to a chastening 4-0 series defeat to India in late 2016, and prior to that they drew their previous two series in Bangladesh and at home to Pakistan last summer. Their last series win was over a year ago against Sri Lanka in the early part of the 2016 summer.
South Africa by contrast have won their last four Test series, and you have to go back 18 months to their last series defeat, at home against England. So although England are the current holders of the Basil d’Olivera trophy following that win in late 2015/early 2016, it is the Proteas who hold the better form.
Overall, the match at Lords will be the 146th Test match between the two sides, with England leading by 58 wins to 32. It is much closer in matches at Lord’s however, with England taking six wins to South Africa’s five from the 15 test matches played between the teams in St John’s Wood, NW8.
From an individual player perspective, there is much to keep an eye on over the next week or so:
Test captaincy debuts
Both sides will be represented at the toss by players marking their first game as captain for their national side.
Joe Root, long groomed as successor to Alastair Cook as England skipper, was officially appointed his permanent replacement earlier in the year following Cook’s captaincy resignation, and will become England’s 80th Test match captain.
For the Proteas, Dean Elgar stands in for usual captain Faf du Plessis who remains at home in South Africa following the birth of his child last week. By contrast, he will become just the 36th man to captain the South Africans in Tests.
Potential Test debuts
Four players as yet uncapped at Test level are in the squads for the first match of the series.
For England, Middlesex quick Toby Roland-Jones could become England’s 677th Test player if picked to play at his home ground.
For South Africa, opening batsman Heino Kuhn will likely make his debut in place of the dropped Stephen Cook, while the untried batsman Aiden Markram and all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo are also in the 16-man Proteas squad, although neither are tipped to play in the opener.
Alastair Cook (England)
He may have resigned as captain, but opening bat Cook could potentially still have years ahead of him in the England Test side as a batsman.
He currently has 11,057 test runs to his name, enough for a place in the world top ten all-time runs scorers. Where he ultimately ends up on that list by the time he calls stumps on his career will be one of the most fascinating things to track over the next couple of years.
First cab off the rank in his quest to move up the rankings is former Australian captain Allan Border who sits 117 runs ahead of Cook on 11,174, and Essex’s finest will be looking to knock him down a notch in this game.
Hashim Amla (South Africa)
South Africa’s leading batsman has a host of personal milestones in his sights in this first test.
He currently has 7,952 test runs to his name, needing just 48 to become the fourth South African and 30th player worldwide to reach 8000 test runs.
A further 75 runs will see him move to 8,075 career runs, and past his ODI captain AB de Villiers (who has all but retired form the longer format) into third place overall for the Proteas, behind only Graeme Smith and the legendary Jacques Kallis.
Amla currently has 26 test centuries under his belt, and one more hundred will see him join Smith in joint second place for his nation.
If he bats in both innings this will take him to 177 test innings, and past both de Villiers and Gary Kirsten who currently sit in joint 4th place for South Africa on 176.
Finally, Hashim has taken 91 catches for his country, and four more from his usual spot in the slips will see him move past Herschelle Gibbs on 94 into 7th place for the Proteas.
Jimmy Anderson (England)
England’s all-time highest wicket-taker (and 6th highest in the world to boot) has a couple of the more obscure records in his sights during this Test.
Jimmy has flung the ball wicket-wards 26,840 times in Test matches, putting him in tenth place in the world for that particular stat. If called upon to bowl 276 more balls, he will move up to ninth in the list past the West Indies’ Lance Gibbs who bowled the ball 27,115 times.
With the willow in hand, England’s number eleven is currently joint top in the world for not-out innings. One more bit of red ink in the record books will see him move clear of another West Indian Courtney Walsh and claim that particular world record for himself.
Moeen Ali (England)
England’s spin bowling all rounder has personal milestones to look forward to with both bat and ball.
He needs 73 more runs to move to 2,000 in the longest format of the game for England, and just two wickets to bring up his century of victims.
Ben Stokes (England)
England’s other all-rounder, Durham’s talismanic Ben Stokes, also has 2000 runs in his sights, sitting just 98 away from the mark on 1,902.
Jonny Bairstow (England)
YJB, now firmly established as England’s Test keeper, has 93 catches in Tests, so needs just seven more to bring up a century of grabs.
Vernon Philander (South Africa)
The burly Philander has taken 161 Test wickets for South Africa, which sees him in eighth place for his country. An impressive nine wickets on the upcoming match will see him draw level with Hugh Tayfield in seventh place.