Free cricket betting preview and tips: South Africa v England Test series

Can Ollie Pope lead the way for England?
Can Ollie Pope lead the way for England?

England begin their four-match Test series against South Africa on Boxing Day - read Richard Mann's preview here.

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2pts Ollie Pope top England series batsman at 10/1

2pts Zubayr Hamza top South Africa series batsman at 7/1


England are back on duty this Christmas with South Africa the host for a four-match series which begins at SuperSport Park early on Boxing Day morning.

England were victorious when last visiting these shores, an entertaining series seeing the tourists prevail 2-1 in 2016, but much has changed in the intervening years with South African cricket in turmoil off the field while the retirements of a number of key players mean they are now a much weaker weaker outfit on it.

The likes of Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel have all since called time on decorated careers and England's defeat over the same rivals in England in the summer of 2017 should give Joe Root's side confidence that they can finally kick-start their ICC World Test Championship campaign.

Even taking home advantage into account, England look the right favourites for series victory at 13/10 but their own inconsistencies - particularly with the bat - mean they are not yet a solid betting proposition away from home and South Africa, recent retirements notwithstanding, still have the tools to prove a tough nut to crack in their own backyard.

In Vernon Philander, they have a brilliant new-ball bowler whose record in South Africa is unrivalled - 138 Test wickets at an average of 18.65 - what Kagiso Rabada and Keshav Maharaj are both excellent performers who should help form a bowling unit capable of taking 20 wickets on home pitches that are often covered with a healthy amount of live grass to encourage the seamers.

Vernon Philander
Vernon Philander

The home batting looks less solid with a great level of responsibility falling on the shoulders of Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram at the top of the order, and captain Faf du Plessis.

The absence of Temba Bavuma for the series opener robs South Africa of more experience in the batting department but in Elgar and Markram, the hosts boast two top-order batsmen of contrasting styles but with good records and the pedigrees to blunt England's own new-ball attack.

Elgar is an uncompromising character, an old-fashioned opening batsman who is prepared to wear his fair share of blows in order to make runs for his country, while Markram is more pleasing on the eye, a tall and elegant player who plays particularly well through the off side.

With James Anderson impressing in England's recent warm-up match against South Africa A, and Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer both expected to be fit again following illness, how Elgar and Markram fare against that trio could go a long way to deciding the fate of the series.

Having missed all but the first Test of last summer's Ashes, Anderson appears determined to finish his illustrious career on his own terms and he will be keen to improve on a surprisingly modest record in South Africa where his average currently stands at a disappointing 39.92.

Ben Stokes enjoyed a 2019 to remember
Ben Stokes enjoyed a 2019 to remember

Much has been said about the Kookaburra ball and how England's bowlers have struggled to persuade it to move off the straight in recent years but South Africa is a different proposition for bowlers with the wickets generally sporting and offering good pace and bounce.

Those factors have made batting against the new ball in South Africa over the last decade very challenging - it has certainly been the chief reason Philander has enjoyed sustained success in that period - but batting does tend to get easier once the Kookaburra gets softer and the likes of Younis Khan, Micheal Clarke, Asad Shafiq and Ben Stokes are middle-order players to have prospered on these shores in the recent past.

In the case of Stokes, he made a blistering double century from number six at Cape Town back in 2016 and the Durham man looks a big runner in the top England batsman market at 6/1.

Stokes topped England's run charts in last summer's Ashes and has the watertight technique required to prosper in these conditions but at almost double the price, Ollie Pope looks a better bet.

Despite not yet reaching his 22nd birthday, Pope has already built an impressive first-class record that sees his average currently sit at a healthy 57.93 and this outstanding young player now looks ready to make his mark at international level.

Pope enjoyed his breakthrough moment in England colours when making a patient 75 against New Zealand at Hamilton recently and a classy hand of 132 against South Africa A last week confirms he remains in excellent touch.

Ollie Pope
Ollie Pope

Pope's first taste of Test cricket actually came against South Africa a couple of years ago but despite his obvious potential, the decision to ask him to bat in the notoriously tricky number three spot proved a poor one with Pope's inexperience and tendency to feel for the ball outside off stump leaving him vulnerable.

Nevertheless, he has gone back to Surrey and worked hard on his game since and the patience he displayed at Hamilton and again last week suggests he has learnt from the harsh lessons handed out in his first taste of Test cricket.

Number six looks a much better spot for him right now - for all number three ought to be his long-term future - and shielded from the new ball, he should be well placed to enjoy a fruitful series and, therefore, must be backed at 10/1.

Staying with the batsmen, South Africa's Zubayr Hamza is a young player I have long had high hopes for and I can't resist a bet on him for all one slight negative tempers my enthusiasm.

Like Pope, Hamza is a younger who has been awarded international honours on the back of consistently strong domestic performances and a first-class average in excess of 50 bears testament to that.

Hamza comes into this series on the back of scores of 183 and 85 for Western Province but making the case more compelling is the promise he displayed in his two Test match appearances to date.

Zubayr Hamza
Zubayr Hamza

The right-hander immediately looked the part when debuting against a handy Pakistan attack just under a year ago, stroking a calm and assured 41 in the first innings to apparently earn himself a long-term run in the side.

However, the more recent tour of India saw Hamza forced to sit out the first two Tests as the hosts ran amok but when he eventually got his chance in Ranchi, he didn't disappoint, a classy first-innings 62 from number three the stand-out performance in another heavy South Africa defeat.

Hamza has now done enough to ensure he enjoys an extended stay in the South Africa team and I expect him to prove a real thorn in England's side over the coming weeks. The fact he was able to stand up to the might of India in their own backyard and excel says a lot about his character and such a strong first-class record emphasises his ability to go big once set.

One of the biggest things to strike me about Hamza is the amount of time he has when playing pace - he will certainly need that against someone capable of reaching the speeds Archer can - and while I would ideally prefer to see him batting in the middle order as oppose to number three where he is more likely to come up against the new ball, quotes of 7/1 for top South Africa series batsman are big enough to warrant a bet.

Value looks in short supply in the bowling markets and the temptation to plump for Rabada for South African honours is tempered by the news that Philander will call time on his fine career at the end of this series.

Philander has been a brilliant performer for South African since debuting in 2011 but his injury problems have seen him miss his fair share of cricket, thus leaving him vulnerable in any outright series betting markets.

Ordinarily, that would have made Rabada an interesting proposition here but with the likelihood that Philander will want to sign off on a high, the waters are just too murky to warrant a play.

Posted at 1440 GMT on 23/11/19.

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