England head into Friday’s fourth Test against South Africa at Old Trafford with a 2-1 series lead after a 239-run victory at The Oval.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some of the talking points ahead of the final clash against the Proteas.
MAKE THE MOST OF STOKES
It is Stuart Broad’s fault this time that Ben Stokes is again fielding comparisons to Andrew Flintoff. In mitigation, you can see why Broad said what he did after his team-mate’s second-innings spell against South Africa.
Some elements of it – appeals and celebrations included – took many instantly back to 2009 and before. Stokes is diplomatic to acknowledge the chat with good grace, and move on. He wants to do it his way – and at this stage of his career, he is shaping up to be England’s best all-rounder of this century for sure.
Injuries may well take their toll as they did with Flintoff but, before then, England supporters should treasure his presence and look forward to more match-winning deeds with bat and ball.
MALAN DESERVES MORE CHANCES
Dawid Malan was conspicuous among England’s three debutants as the one who failed to come up with a notable performance. There were eight wickets for Toby Roland-Jones, and a half-century for Tom Westley, but fate was not on Malan’s side at The Oval.
He attracted a fantastic delivery after trying his best to combat tough conditions in the first innings, and was then a hostage to fortune as England went after quick runs before their declaration second time round. No one should judge him on either effort, more so from the evidence to hand on his June Twenty20 debut which so impressed coach Trevor Bayliss.
At 29, Malan has had to wait for his chance and can only hope – after a marginal punt on the balance of the team in the third Investec Test – that Joe Root sees things the same way in Manchester.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED WITH ENGLAND
Extra batsman or not, England are devilishly hard to predict. “We’ve not done things by halves so far in this series,” said a slightly rueful Root even in the glow of victory at The Oval.
It is an understatement, following two victories by a combined 450 runs – either side of a defeat by 340. England are up against highly-capable opponents who have also gone to extremes, of course – so it’s anybody’s guess what may pan out in Manchester from Friday onwards.
SOUTH AFRICA ARE NO MUGS – WHATEVER THE EXPERTS SAY
Root acknowledged, before and after England’s win at The Oval, that some of the high-profile criticism of England’s faulty gung-ho cricket in Nottingham was reasonable and constructive. England certainly batted very differently, and successfully, in London.
Whatever your take on some of the most damning soundbites, it is hard to entirely refute the broad point that England’s batsmen cannot always be counter-attacking one-trick ponies – it will only work some of the time in Test cricket. It is easier to take issue with some pundits’ remarks after England had won at Lord’s – calling for a 4-0 series whitewash at all costs.
They were sweeping comments which badly underestimated opponents easily up to giving their hosts a proper game or, as we discovered in the midlands, thrashing them if they took their eye off the ball.
ONE LAST ASHES QUALIFIER?
It does not do to underestimate South Africa then, yet it is equally hard to anticipate a stern examination from this summer’s second Test tourists. It is a long time since West Indies were competitive – still longer since they were invincible – in English conditions.
Whoever comes through the Manchester Test with reputation intact or enhanced, and fitness assured, can hope to prosper in three Tests against the Windies – and so have one foot on the plane to Australia this winter already.
Provided by Press Association Sport
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