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Confident England eyes series sweep

De Kock returns to South Africa as home side aims to win back some pride in Centurion, at a ground where it has traditionally done well

Confident England eyes series sweep  - Cricket News
The Test series has been wrapped up 2-0 in England's favour, the world No. 1 ranking duly surrendered by a struggling South Africa, and a new top-ranked Test bowler crowned. The fourth and final Test between the sides in Centurion, starting on Friday (January 22) is a dead rubber, but if anyone expected a let up in intensity with the teams looking ahead to the limited-overs games to follow, they would be much mistaken.    

The hunger is strong and the ambitions high as the teams clash one last time in whites at SuperSport Park.  

Good teams, according to Trevor Bayliss, are not satisfied with simply winning Test series. “To get to [be] the best team in the world, you have to win series 3, 4, 5-0,” he has said.

It is a strong statement of intent, and one Alastair Cook is on board with.  

England's attacking attitude has brought it two big wins in this series. While in the first Test in Durban it won by 241 runs, it completed an emphatic seven-wicket victory within three days in Johannesburg in the third Test, driven by the brilliance of Stuart Broad's 6 for 17.

Its performance at the Wanderers might have seemed near perfect – there was a hundred along the way for Joe Root, too, and all the bowlers accounted for at least one wicket – but Cook has continued to urge the team “to look to what we can do better”.

“From a team point of view, make no bones about it, this team wants to keep moving forwards,” said Nick Compton, the England batsman, who is hoping to further his own credentials. “So we’ve won, and that’s great, but there’s a long way to go in terms of the team’s journey. I think that’s been quite clear in terms of the messages we’ve tried to convey and the way we’re thinking as a team.

“For me and a lot of the other guys, there’s a lot to play for. It’s a Test match for England. You’re playing in South Africa, it’s another great experience being at a ground many of us haven’t played at before and there’s a lot of personal pride.”  

The warning has been sounded and South Africa will do well to pay heed, but if ever it could fashion a turnaround after two forgettable months, its chances would be highest at Centurion.

The team has a 15-2 win-loss record at the ground, with its senior players seemingly conjuring their best there.

AB de Villiers, for whom it is a home ground, made his maiden Test century against England there 11 years ago, and in his most recent six innings has hit three centuries, two nineties and a 48. His average at Centurion is 68.05.

Hashim Amla's numbers are more impressive: his average at the ground is 85.27.

Both of them will eye a return to winning ways, and with former players criticising their “negativity”, they will want to lead the team in reclaiming pride.   

“There is a lot of pride that has been left out on the field and a lot of pride can be claimed back if we compete well in this Test,” said Dean Elgar, the opener, who with 263 runs has the highest average of 65.75 among his team-mates so far.  

South Africa will again be without Dale Steyn, who picked up a shoulder injury in the first Test and missed the next two games, while Hardus Viljoen, Stiaan van Zyl, Rilee Rossouw and Dane Vilas have all been released. The team, however, got a boost with Quinton de Kock, the wicketkeeper-batsman who sat out of the last Test with a knee injury, being declared fit and available for selection.    

The home side's problems have started at the top of the batting line-up, with its openers struggling to build a good foundation. “You have to be mentally in-tune, you don’t necessarily have an hour to relax after fielding, you have ten minutes. Mentally you have to be comfortable with yourself and your role. It’s a position that you need to have for a long period of time to get accustomed to it,” said Elgar, explaining the challenges on the role.   

The selectors have now decided to go with a specialist opener to partner Elgar, calling up Stephen Cook in place of van Zyl. Stephen, who is the highest run-scorer in the domestic first-class season with 415 runs at an average of 83, including two centuries, is in line to make his debut.

England, meanwhile, will be forced to make a change to their winning combination after Steven Finn, the pacer, picked up a tour-ending side strain in the previous game. Chris Woakes, who picked up one wicket in Durban, is first in line to replace him but England could also consider a debut for Mark Footitt.   

The Test series will be followed by five One-Day Internationals between the sides.
South Africa (from): AB de Villiers (capt), Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Chris Morris, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Morne Morkel.
England (likely): Alastair Cook (capt), Alex Hales, Nick Compton, Joe Root, James Taylor, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes/ Mark Footitt.

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