England start as firm favourites with Jimmy Anderson back in the bowling line up. South Africa have deep problems. The side that dominated world cricket are now in severe decline, inevitable with the retirement of Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith and their 3 best players, Amla, AB De Villiers and Steybn the wrong side of 30. Amla and de Villiers probably need to be released from the constraints of captaincy and wicketkeeping respectively. Quentin de Kock can come in as wicketkeeper and solve the opener problem but replacing, if you exclude Ashwell Prince for one game, the first non-white skipper will have ramifications in a highly political set up.
The Proteas can draw hope from a strong home record at Newlands but in every other respect they look the inferior side. England now have a cadre of outstanding players in their mid-twenties, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, alongside the experience of Alistair Cook,Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Aside from a spinner, and there is a world dearth of these, there is no obvious weakness.
Apart from the absence of spin, one sadness for me in contemporary test cricket the decline of the technical, as opposed to,the batting, wicketkeeper. If a keeper is required to bat, why not bowlers too? By consent Jonny Bairstow had a good first test but he kept indifferently, missing stumpings and dropping catches might be crucial. There have been great wicket keeping batsman, South Africa’s Derek Lindsay was one if these, along with Les Ames, Godfrey Evans and Adam Gilchrist but, conversely too, highly-competent keepers who could not make a batting input, Bob Taylor, Wally Grout. Would they be selected nowadays? To convert de Villiers may releases a place but now it’s weakening the team capability.
Depressed South Africans talk if a 4-0 defeat but somehow I doubt this. They are a proud, combative team that will in my view put up stiffer opposition than in Durban.
Last night I went to dinner at some friends at Seapoint.
There I met a Spaniard who was a great aficionado of cricket and had a significant library including many cricketing volumes.
He was one of those profound intellectuals who could talk on anything from art to politics to cricket. Conversation ranged from the number of paintings of Picasso (2500) to powerful political leaders who are in office for ages and give a credo (Franco,Castro, Thatcher) but can never find a successor to follow this credo.
He cited Salvador Dali, the greatest scientist painter since Leonardo da Vinci, and the number of pictures painted by John Constable (1850). Without exaggeration it was one of the most fascinating conversations of my life.