By William Hill
Last Updated: 20th December 2019
England cap off 2019 with a three-month trip to South Africa this winter starting with the first Test at Centurion on Boxing Day.
Although they were crowned world champions in the ODI format earlier this year, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Joe Root and the Test side with series losses to the West Indies and New Zealand, while Australia retained the Ashes. Root and Co. will be keen to turn their fortunes around against the Proteas and here is our look at the series’ best bets.
South Africa not the side they once were
Historically, a tour of South Africa was one of the hardest tours for any visiting nation, but you feel this might be a good time to face the Proteas. Granted, they do have a formidable record on their home turf, having lost only one home series since 2016, but recent results suggest this isn’t the side of yesteryear. They’ve only won one of their last four Test series, against a Pakistan side who are notoriously poor travellers, while they were beaten by an average-at-best Sri Lanka at home at the start of the year.
They also come into this series on the back of a 3-0 series defeat to India, where the scoreline doesn’t really paint the picture of how big the difference in class was. India is of course a very tricky place to go and Virat Kohli’s side are head and shoulders above the other nations in Test cricket at the moment, but two defeats by an innings and another by over 200 runs suggests this is a South African team that is really struggling.
The fact they’ve called up six uncapped players for the visit of England speaks volumes of the issues that lie within the Proteas camp and the 11/8 on them winning the series looks pretty short.
Captain Root can lead England to success
Although England have been, for the most part, poor in the Test arena for a while now this looks a golden opportunity to get things back on track. They have chopped and changed their batting line-up for ages and it must be so hard for batsmen who don’t know their spot in the order. Both Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley didn’t do much in New Zealand to press their claims, but their international careers are still in their infancy and both have a prime opportunity to demonstrate what they’re about in South Africa.
Both sides have pretty solid bowling attacks, with Jofra Archer, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad leading for England, while South Africa have Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander. However, this series could be won and lost in the batting and given the Proteas only managed to pass 200 twice in six innings in India, you’ve got to think the likes of Archer will be licking their lips at the prospect of taking on this fragile line-up.
England look the bet at 11/8, with South Africa’s poor batting likely to cost them.
Meanwhile, captain Root should be backed in the top England batsman market. He had struggled for form in parts of 2019, but he comes into this having scored 226 in the final Test against New Zealand and followed that up with an unbeaten 72 in a recent warm-up game. He’s played eight Tests against the Proteas and has scored a 50 or 100 in every game so far, with an average of over 56, so you can expect him to make hay against a side he has fond memories of. Back the skipper to lead from the front at 15/8.