A regal procession in London followed alarmingly by a massacre in the East Midlands.
England’s displays at Lords and Trent Bridge in the first two Tests against South Africa have made Dr Jekyll look one dimensional by comparison and with the four-match series fast approaching its climax, would the real England please stand up.
The team’s recent 340-run annihilation in Nottingham was as chastening as it was widely criticised for Joe Root and his boys, and if momentum is key with just 10 days of the series remaining, South Africa perhaps unexpectedly find themselves suddenly in the driving seat.
The Oval however has not proved a happy hunting ground for the Proteas over the years.
The tourists have ventured south of the river 14 times previously for Test matches since their first Oval assignment 110 years ago. They registered a solitary win but, worryingly from an England perspective, that did came last time out in 2012 when a majestic 311 not out from Hashim Amla laid the foundation for a thumping victory by an innings and 12 runs.
England’s selectors have resisted the temptation to swing the axe too heavily after the side’s meek surrender at Trent Bridge but at least one new face is guaranteed at the Oval this Thursday with Essex’s Tom Westley set to make his debut at No.3 in the battling line-up after confirmation of Gary Ballance’s broken finger.
The uncapped Middlesex duo of batsman Dawid Malan and seamer Toby Roland-Jones will also be hoping to profit from the team’s second Test woes.
Despite their Nottingham humiliation, England are nonetheless the favourites at the Oval at 6/5 while South Africa are 7/4 to claim back-to-back victories and ensure they cannot lose the series. The draw, which would set up a winner-takes-all showdown next month at Old Trafford, is 13/4.
The lack of substantial opening partnerships have the Achilles Heel of both sides this summer. Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings’ 80 for the first wicket in the second innings at Lords is the best the series has mustered so far but England didn’t get into double figures at Trent Bridge while South Africa’s best start this summer has been two modest opening stands of 18 in Nottingham.
The home side are 4/5 to register the highest first wicket total at the Oval, the Proteas evens to start the strongest.
The batting odds once again sees Root installed as the favourite to post the biggest individual first innings score at 5/1 but Amla is not far behind at 11/2 at the ground on which he posted the best score of his prolific Test career five years ago.
Westley is 10/1 to be the top bat on debut while Jennings is 11/1 despite the out-of-form Durham opener having scrapped together only 44 runs in four innings so far.
Moeen Ali is England’s second highest scorer of the Test summer behind Root and is 22/1 to lead the way in the first innings while the Proteas’ ‘number two’ behind Amla is surprisingly Vernon Philander, the all-rounder rated 50/1 to make the headlines with the ball rather than ball.
The race to be the leading wicket taker of the series sees Ali out front with 14 to date.
But it is team-mate Jimmy Anderson with 10 victims and counting who leads the way in the Oval betting for top first innings bowler at 6/1.
Philander is the same price while spinner Keshav Maharaj, South Africa’s most prolific bowler so far with 10 wickets after picking up six at Trent Bridge, is 15/2.
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