Much-anticipated series will get underway with Boxing Day Test, with home side keen to turn things around after series loss in India
After a rare series defeat in India, South Africa will be keen to turn things around quickly in the series against England, with the first of four Test matches starting on Boxing Day in Durban.
South Africa has been fortified by the return of Dale Steyn, the top-ranked bowler in the ICC rankings, who had to miss most of the India series with a groin strain. Steyn was put through a comprehensive fitness Test in the lead up to the first Test, and emerged with no ill effects, lending considerable weight to South Africa’s attack.
But while the home team has its pace spearhead veteran back, England will have to do without James Anderson for the first Test, after the swing bowler was ruled out due to a calf strain. In Anderson’s absence, Chris Woakes is likely to play, adding to his four Test caps, the last of which came in August 2014 at The Oval against India. Woakes is expected to join the pace trio of Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Ben Stokes in the playing XI.
Anderson’s injury has marred what has been a successful build-up for England otherwise, with a convincing nine-wicket win against South Africa A in its warm-up match that had the batting core among the runs and the main bowlers picking wickets.
England is also coming off a loss in its previous series, going down 2-0 against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, and with both sides eager to return to winning ways, Hashim Amla, the South Africa captain, expected a keenly contested series. “Our being at home for the remainder of the summer is a huge advantage for us,” he said. “Both teams have had some challenges in their previous series but being at home is great for us, we have a good record here. Obviously having Dale back in our team is also a big boost.”
Another important change South Africa will make is handing over the wicketkeeping duties to AB de Villiers once again. De Villiers was the most impressive South African batsman during the 3-0 defeat to India, but with him donning the gloves, the home side will be able to play an extra batsman, should it need to. Amla said the additional responsibility would only bring the best out of de Villiers.
“AB’s preparation has been very good,” said Amla. “The last time he kept wicket was against the West Indies when Quinton (De Kock) went over his ankle and he hadn’t kept for a long time before that but he kept exceptionally well. He is the type of guy that doesn’t need a lot of preparation, but when we see him prepare like how we have seen him prepare over the last few days it only shows what a wonderful asset he is to the team. He can juggle so many things and still be so good at what he does.”
The series is also important for South Africa to hold on to its top spot in the ICC Team rankings for Test cricket. If South Africa loses the series, it will also lose the top spot – the first time that will happen since July 2014.
With plenty at stake for both teams, bowling attacks that can make good use of the conditions on offer, and several exciting batsmen on both sides, it promises to be a crackling start to an eagerly anticipated series.
South Africa: Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers (wk), Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl.
England: Alastair Cook (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wk), Alex Hales, Nick Compton, Mark Footitt, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Chris Woakes.