South Africa vs England, 1st Test Preview- Illness-ridden tourists aim for an ideal start as South Africa usher in a ‘new’ era
South Africa has endured possibly one the toughest times -both on and off the field- in the past few months.
Updated - Dec 25, 2019 11:39 am
At the start of the decade, South Africa and England were vying for the rights to be called the No.1 ranked Test side in the world. And, the 2012 Test series in the English summer between the two proud cricketing nations was a highly anticipated bout. Leading into the series it was built as a battle of two heavyweights aiming for the summit of Test match ranking and for the rights to be called the best side in the purest format of the game. It had its own intriguing mini-battles between Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Stuart Broad or Kevin Pieterson and Dale Steyn.
It was built as the clash of titans. Seven years later as we move into the 2020s, that is no longer the case with the upcoming series. In fact, the four-match series which starts with the Boxing Day Test at the SuperSport Park, Centurion, is about two sides- plagued with very different, but persistent issues- desperately trying to shrug off the ignominies of the past and get on with it quickly in times where there are points up for grabs and every game holds equal importance.
South Africa has endured possibly one the toughest times -both on and off the field- in the past few months, but with recent developments in the form of Graeme Smith becoming the director of cricket followed by Mark Boucher [Head Coach], Charl Langeveldt [bowling consultant] and Jacques Kallis [batting consultant], taking up important positions in the cricketing set-up, there is a reason to be optimistic, but ultimately it is the players on the field that will have to perform.
The hosts named six uncapped players in the squad, making it even more important for senior players like Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Quinton de Kock, and Kagiso Rabada to be at the top of their game, not only in their skillsets but also as senior players.
England, on the other hand, have issues of their own. For all their resurgence in white-ball cricket, England’s prowess as a Test nation-especially in overseas conditions- in the past 3-4 years has taken a severe beating. Since their 2-1 win against South Africa on their previous tour of the rainbow nation [2015-2016], England has managed just five wins in 23 overseas Tests which includes 0-4 drubbing at the hands of India  and Australia  and defeats in the Caribbean [1-2] and New Zealand in 2019.
One of the biggest reasons behind England’s struggles in overseas conditions has been their batsmen’s inability to grind out daddy hundreds and the lack of X-factor in their bowling, as was evident in the recent series against New Zealand, something Joe Root had talked about repeatedly in the past, and the English captain will be hoping that his marathon double-hundred in Wellington sets the template for his batsmen in this series.
Skipper Faf du Plessis confirmed on Tuesday that Rassie van der Dussen and all-rounder Dwaine Pretorious will be making their debut at the SuperSport Park in Centurion, while a decision is yet to be taken as to who among Dane Paterson, Beuran Hendricks, and Anrich Nortje will complete the fast bowling department alongside Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander.
Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis [c], Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock [wk], Dwaine Pretorious, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Beuran Hendricks/Anrich Nortje
Traditionally the pitch at the SuperSport Park in Centurion has been a safe haven for the fast bowlers, and England coach Chris Silverwood admitted that the tourists might go with an all-seam bowling attack. That would be possible, of course, if all of Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer are able to recover from the bug that has plagued the English contingent. Dominic Bess and Craig Overton have been called as covers and though Broad and Archer are recovering well, the final, decision on their participation will be taken on the morning of the match-day.
England will be bolstered with the inclusion of champion fast bowler James Anderson, who is set to play a record-150th Test match in Centurion. But, it remains to be seen whether Ben Stokes will take part in the first Test. Stokes’s father is critically ill and the all-rounder did not participate in Tuesday’s practice session in order to be with his ailing father. Jos Buttler, who missed out on the last Test against New Zealand due to injury, is set to regain his wicket-keeping gloves from Ollie Pope, who’ll slot-in as a specialist batsman.
Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root [c], Ollie Pope, Ben Stokes/Craig Overton/Sam Curran, Jack Leach, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
Focus will be on:
Kagiso Rabada [SA]- With Dale Steyn having already retired and Vernon Philander set to do the same after the end of this series, the onus is now on Kagiso Rabada to spearhead the fast bowling attack. Rabada hasn’t had a great 2019, but the fast bowler has enough pedigree in him, to stage a comeback. And, what better way than to do that in these desperate times for the rainbow nation.
James Anderson [ENG]– One of the greats of the modern era, the tenacious James Anderson will add another to his cap when he’ll turn out for England for a record 150th time- the most by any fast bowler- in the five-day format of the game. Anderson is making his comeback from a long injury lay-off; one that saw him miss both the Ashes as well the two-match series against England. The champion fast bowler claimed three wickets in the practice game against South Africa A and will be looking to do much the same or even better in the first Test.
39.92- That’s Jimmy Anderson’s average after bowling 315.1 overs for 25 wickets on South African soil.
6- No of Test matches England have won on the road since the start of 2016. During this period they have lost 14 out of the 25 fixtures.
31- Matches won by England [in 81 Tests] on South African soil- the most by any visiting side followed by Australia, who have won 29 out of the 54 games they’ve played in the rainbow nation.
6- South Africa’s ongoing losing streak in Test cricket. They lost 0-2 to Sri Lanka at home before getting hammered by India 0-3.
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Match Timings – 10:00 local time, 08:00 AM GMT, 01:30 PM IST