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International Cricket - Cricket: England vs South Africa first Test preview

England have endured a disappointing white-ball summer to date, but attention now turns back to what has been a wholly different story in the red-ball game.

Ben Stokes' men are set to take the field once again, bringing their new aggressive brand of Test cricket to the first encounter with South Africa, with the action starting at 11:00 on Wednesday at Lord's.

The hosts are 5/6 to open the series with a victory, with South Africa 15/4 and the draw, which could come into play depending on the weather, available at 12/5.

What:

England v South Africa, 1st Test

Where:

Lord's, London

When:

11:00, Wednesday, 17th August

How to watch:

Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Cricket

Odds:

England 5/6, South Africa 15/4, Draw 12/5

England revolution continues

Given England's previous strength in the shorter formats and their continuing decline in the five-day game, culminating in a dismal winter that led to all manner of changes at the top, few would have predicted the events that have transpired this summer.

Remarkably, England have won all four Test matches they have played on home soil so far, while the white-ball sides have lost seven of 12 games with one no-result.

Past shortcomings centred around, but were not solely restricted to, a frail batting line-up, highlighted by being bowled out for 141 in the first Test against New Zealand on the back of dismissing the tourists for 132, with everyone thinking 'here we go again'.

However, the transformation has been nothing short of remarkable, with Stokes' side chasing down whatever target they have been set, culminating in a memorable and record 378-3 last time out to beat India and salvage a draw in that series, having beaten the Black Caps 3-0 with second-innings scores of 279-5, 299-5 and 296-3.

Whether it was a strange quirk of fate or simply part of the new game-plan implemented by Stokes, along with head coach Brendon McCullum, is open to question but England of course batted second in each of those four victorious Tests, electing to do so just twice having also lost the toss the other two times.

What ramifications batting first will have on this team has yet to be determined and it will be interesting to see what South Africa captain Dean Elgar does when he calls correctly, but there is plenty of intrigue and excitement heading into the opener, thanks to England rediscovering the winning feeling.

Same again for hosts

There is very little surprise that England are largely keeping faith with the side that has done so well already, with Ben Foakes back from injury to take over the gloves from Sam Billings in the only change from the win over India.

Captain Stokes has reiterated his side's intention will be to play on the front foot with no fear and it will be intriguing to see how long England can maintain this approach if results start to revert to the type of the last two years or so.

There are still frailties in the batting order, not least at the top where Zak Crawley, Alex Lees and Ollie Pope have yet to truly nail down a place, and all average below 30.

The latter has been promoted up the order but at least has a hundred and a half-century to his name from the summer's action, while Lees scored 56 in his most recent knock against India which helped set up the record run chase.

Crawley also contributed his highest score of the summer in that same innings but 46 is not much to write home about, with eight single-digit scores in his last 12 innings putting him under the most pressure.

Still, England have benefited from Joe Root's ongoing excellence, with the former skipper scoring three centuries, two of which were unbeaten, along with another score of 82 not out in the four summer Tests.

What has perhaps been an unexpected bonus is the stellar form of Jonny Bairstow, who appears to be the one who has most revelled in the "Bazball" philosophy.

The big-hitting Yorkshireman started 2022 with two centuries before suffering a dip in form as England surrendered in the West Indies.

However, since a poor first Test against New Zealand, he has exploded under the change in leadership and racked up four centuries in his last five innings, with the other score an unbeaten 71, while three of his hundreds have been in the run chase.

Root and Bairstow, who average 61.80 and 76.46 respectively in 2022, would appear to be key against South Africa, with the tourists improving their chances of success if they can remove the pair cheaply.

On the bowling side, England have stuck with those that have been performing already this summer, despite Ollie Robinson having being recalled to the squad after taking five wickets for the Lions against the Proteas. He misses out as Matt Potts keeps his place alongside veteran duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad, with Jack Leach providing the front-line spin option.

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Proteas no pushovers

It would be both easy and unfair to assume that South Africa are not the force they once were in the wake of the relatively recent retirements of a whole host of key players, coupled with the fact they have lost their last two series against England 3-1, in England in 2017 and on home soil in 2019/20.

However, since losing the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy most recently, the Proteas have lost only one of six series, in Pakistan in 2020/21, while they have beaten Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh in South Africa, won in the West Indies and held the World Test champions New Zealand.

In fact, Elgar's men are third in the ICC Test rankings below only Australia and India, with the resurgent England behind them in fourth.

The Proteas may have lost some big names, particularly in their batting line-up, but they have proven they are no easy beats and have the players on both sides of the ball that can, on their day at least, upset any team in the world.

The fitness issues surrounding fast bowler Kagiso Rabada are not helping their cause and he would be a massive miss should he not make the first Test, but the Proteas will be putting a side out that will certainly not be afraid of taking England on regardless, despite the hosts' current hot streak.

There is expected to be some inclement weather to affect the first day of the opening Test at the very least, which makes the toss option even more intriguing, and the bowlers will be hoping to use conditions to their advantage.

South Africa weren't expected to trouble England in the white-ball arena but were more than a match for their hosts, and they may just be happy to have been written off from a betting perspective.

The Proteas have a decent record at Lord's having won four of six matches at the home of cricket, with just one defeat - although that was on their most recent visit in 2017.

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