LONDON (Reuters) – The test series between South Africa and England which starts in Durban on Saturday is “too close to call” according to former England skipper Kevin Pietersen.
South Africa’s recent 3-0 series defeat in India has depleted confidence in the national side, and Pietersen believes England can exploit it.
“Not that long ago I feared we would lose easily. But now it is too close to call. The two teams mirror each other,” Pietersen said in his column in the Daily Telegraph.
Pietersen said that both sides must address the fragility in their batting orders, with England too dependent on captain Alastair Cook and Joe Root and the hosts relying on Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
“South Africa will rely on two big fish in Amla and AB de Villiers. The rest of the batters have much to prove,” Pietersen said. “But it is the same for England.
“Their big fish are Cook and Joe Root. Nick Compton is back in the side trying to rebuild a career, Alex Hales is untried in test cricket and James Taylor has never played in such bouncy, quick conditions.”
South Africa-born Pietersen said another series defeat would pose difficult questions about South African cricket which, like other sports, have adopted quota systems for non-white players.
“There is a lot at stake for South Africa in the test series against England,” he said. “The public were very disappointed with performances in India recently. But the issues go deeper than just one series defeat.
“There is a lot of discussion within South African sport at the moment about the impact of transformation.
“Quota systems in rugby and cricket have caused a lot of soul searching with some questioning whether it has taken precedence over picking players on talent.
“If South Africa lose this series to England there will be lots of questions about whether they are on the right path.”
The choice of Kingsmead for the opening test could also work in England’s favour. They have not lost a test there since 1928 and won by an innings in 2009.
“South Africa have never enjoyed the Boxing Day test experience in Durban and have shifted the fixture in recent years but it is back to cash in on the holiday crowds and the many England fans who will be travelling to watch the series,” added Pietersen.
“This series will feel like playing in Barbados, where the majority of the fans are English. It is a home game for Alastair Cook’s team.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Justin Palmer)