England have lost key players to illness, while South Africa, with their revamped structure, are on the path of recovery. The two teams, both wounded but dangerous, are hungry to have a go at each other.
South Africa v England, 1st Test
ICC Test Championship
Thursday 26 - Monday 30 December; 10:00am local, 08.00am GMT
Both England and South Africa are playing their second ICC Test Championship series. While England are third on the table with two wins, South Africa are last, having been swept by India.
There is, however, a fresh optimism about Faf du Plessis' men. A new coaching set-up, with Mark Boucher in charge, and Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt and Paul Harris in consulting roles, has revitalised them, with Graeme Smith pulling the strings as CSA acting director of cricket. They are also set to hand Test debuts to Rassie van der Dussen and all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius. With Temba Bavuma missing through injury, it will be up to van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock to shore up the middle order.
England, meanwhile, have plenty of concerns, with a virus having hit the camp. While Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer have recovered and are likely to play, Chris Woakes has been laid low. Jack Leach, the spinner, who was struck by gastro on the tour of New Zealand, has also been ill in South Africa. More seriously, Ben Stokes' father took seriously ill and was admitted to hospital; while the all-rounder missed practice on Tuesday attending to his father, the board confirmed he was available for training on the eve of the game.
Sam Curran and Jonny Bairstow are the most likely replacements to the XI, should the need arise. The good news for the visitors is that pacer James Anderson is set to play his first Test since limping off in August at the start of the Ashes.
The last time they met
England have claimed the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy in Tests between the sides in their last two meetings. When they were last in South Africa for a Test series in 2015-16, Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow ensured a 2-1 win. Then, when South Africa came visiting in 2017 for a four-match series, Root's men, led by Moeen Ali's efforts, finished with a 3-1 scoreline. The teams' latest encounter across formats was in the opening match of the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019, when Stokes' all-round heroics sealed a comprehensive 104-run win for the hosts.
The last time South Africa played a Test against England in Centurion?— ICC (@ICC) December 24, 2019
A 20-year-old Kagiso Rabada took 13 wickets in the match as the hosts secured a victory by 280 runs. pic.twitter.com/Cnc0tioFa3
What they said
Joe Root, England captain: "We have got extra people here and it’s a good squad that enables us to put out a competitive team come what may. It’s frustrating but we have to handle it ... I have never encountered a South African team that does not play with pride and passion. And I expect nothing different at Centurion. They are good in their own conditions."
Faf du Plessis, South Africa captain: "We are at an infant stage as a Test team, and the plan is to get back to number one, but that will take some time. We do need to mature, we’ve got a year and a half of the World Test Championship. The plan is get out there and play a little bit better every time we go out."
It's expected to be hot in Centurion on the first two days of the Test, with some rain in the evening on Friday bringing a slight drop in temperatures later on.
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