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South Africa faces form, fitness battles ahead of second Test

Dale Steyn ruled out; England high on confidence after victory in Durban, but will be wary of taking host lightly

South Africa faces form, fitness battles ahead of second Test
 - Cricket News
Dale Steyn celebrates the wicket of James Taylor.
South Africa will hope the new year brings with it a change in fortunes as it takes on England in the second Test in Cape Town on Saturday (January 2), but, unfortunately for it, Dale Steyn will again not feature in the starting XI.

The year gone by was not among the best for South Africa's Test fortunes. It won only one of its eight Tests last year – the new year Test against West Indies in Cape Town – and went on to lose its first away Test series in nine years with a 3-0 defeat to India. The year ended on a wrong note, too, as it lost the first match of its four-Test series against England by a massive 241 runs.

The No. 1-ranked team has both form and fitness concerns, and it starts with the captain. Hashim Amla managed only 251 runs last year at an average of 22.81 and a highest score of 63. Faf du Plessis has been in even poorer form, averaging 16.75, while JP Duminy, with an average of 14, is the other worry. The failure of the three senior batsmen has added more pressure on AB de Villiers, who also had to shoulder wicketkeeping duties in the first Test.

De Villiers has been the only man in form for South Africa but has indicated the need to manage his workload. South Africa added Quinton de Kock to the side for the second Test, and if he does play, he will keep wickets and slot in at No. 7 in the batting order. The other bright spot in the host’s batting line-up is Dean Elgar, who carried his bat for a century in the first innings in Durban even as the rest of the side failed.

While the batting is struggling with form issues, the bowling attack is plagued by injuries. Steyn recovered from the groin injury that kept him out for all but one innings of the India Tests to play the series opener against England but injured his shoulder in the second innings of the game. Kyle Abbott also suffered tightness in his left hamstring during the Test, forcing the selectors to bring in Chris Morris and the uncapped Hardus Viljoen as cover. South Africa is already without Vernon Philander, who tore his ankle ligaments in India.

Morne Morkel, therefore, will have to spearhead the young attack again. The lanky pacer picked four wickets in the first innings and will welcome the support from Dane Piedt, the off-spinner who picked up five in the second innings.

England, on the other hand, will be high on confidence after its big win in Durban. The lengthy batting line-up is in form, with Nick Compton, James Taylor, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow scoring half-centuries in the first Test. Alex Hales didn't click in his debut Test and his partner Alastair Cook also didn't score much, but that isn't exactly a concern for England. The visitor will be particularly pleased with the return of Compton, who made crucial scores of 85 and 49 from precarious positions in his first game in more than two years.

England was without James Anderson in Durban but still managed to bowl out the host for 214 and 174. Anderson missed the first Test with a calf injury but Cook revealed that the signs are “quite positive” and a decision on his availability for the second Test will be taken on Saturday.

Stuart Broad and Steve Finn stepped up their games in Anderson's absence, picking up four wickets in either innings but England's best bowler in Durban was Moeen Ali. The off-spinner capitalised on South Africa's recent struggles against spin to bag seven wickets in the Test alongside the Man of the Match award.

England is on top in the series at the moment but even a depleted South Africa cannot be taken lightly. That it is No. 1 in Tests despite a poor year says it all.

Teams (from)
England: Alastair Cook (capt), Alex Hales, Nick Compton, Joe Root, James Taylor, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Jos Buttler, Mark Footitt, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, Gary Ballance.

South Africa: Stiaan van Zyl, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock, Chris Morris, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Hardus Viljoen, Rilee Rossouw, Temba Bavuma

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