London, Aug 15 (IANS) Former England skipper Nasser Hussain believes his country’s Test side are favourites in the three-match home series against South Africa but Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum will have to guard against the tourists’ habit of “unseating England captains in the not too distant past”.
Dean Elgar’s side will take on the Stokes-led England in the opening Test at Lord’s from August 17 and the hosts go into the series as favourites, given they recently clean-swept the three-Test series against New Zealand and defeated India in the rescheduled fifth Test at Edgbaston.
“When England take the field against South Africa at Lord’s on Wednesday, their greatest wish will be to continue the momentum built up during four remarkable victories against New Zealand and India. I fancy them to win the series, but it won’t be easy,” opined Hussain in his column for Daily Mail.
“South Africa are top of the World Test Championship, and keep churning out results under the gritty leadership of Dean Elgar. Recently, they came from behind to beat India at home. They’ve had a habit of unseating England captains in the not too distant past, and while I’m not suggesting they will do the same to Ben Stokes this summer, Stokes will know his team face a challenge, particularly against the South African bowlers,” added Husain.
Hussain added that the change of mindset in the England side, where they overcame the disappointing losses over the last two years to script four amazing Test wins, had been “outstanding”, but added a word of caution that the hosts also had some narrow escapes in those games.
“The change in mindset brought about by Stokes and Brendon McCullum has been outstanding, but England have also had some narrow escapes this summer. New Zealand were ahead in all three Tests, and it needed a huge partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Jamie Overton to get England out of trouble against them at Headingley,” said Hussain.
He opined that, while their positive and attacking style of play, termed ‘Bazball’, was great, they sometimes will have to play with caution when the ball is moving a bit.
“They also know there will be times when they have to play the conditions: if the ball’s nipping around, put the big shots in the locker for a bit. Stay positive, but don’t throw it away. This probably applies more to Zak Crawley than to anyone else in the side. He should sit down and watch a replay of his second innings against India, when he made 46 and left the ball well at the start. His nemesis has been the booming drive early on, before he’s got the pace of the pitch, but on that occasion he bided his time.”
Crawley has been criticised for throwing away his wicket at the top more often than not, and putting those coming after him under pressure.
“Crawley has to be smart — once he’s in, he can show off his strokeplay. His Edgbaston knock (vs India) should be his template. It is going to be a big series for him. The other England batter who may have to tweak things at some point is (Ben) Stokes himself.
“I get that he’s trying to show his team-mates the way by batting with aggression. But he’s too good a player, and too valuable to England’s chances of making big totals on a consistent basis, to be getting caught at mid-off for 25. He’s a clever cricketer, and he knows that his main aim right now is to set the tone for the team. But there will also come a moment when he decides that scoring hundreds can set the tone too. I have no doubt he will get there,” added Hussain.