England hope to improve touring record
Centurion, South Africa - Rumbles between South Africa and England have always had something of a seismic quality. Think Graeme Smith bringing down three successive England captains, the battle for the Test mace in 2012, or South Africa being Broadsided at the Wanderers in 2016. Two Test heavyweights who know how to tango.
This time, however, both camps look a little battered and bruised before the series has even begun. South Africa have hastily picked through the rubble of their 2019 winter, appointed an entirely new management structure, and will be attempting to end a five-Test losing streak when they take the field in Centurion.
England, meanwhile, are also being led by a new head coach, and arrive in South Africa looking to improve on a pretty awful touring record that has seen them lose five of their last six away series; and that, too, while dealing with a sickness bug that continues to deplete their resources.
The hosts’ 16-man squad picked for the first two Tests contained as many as six players uncapped in this format, and they have since lost Temba Bavuma to injury. In Bavuma's absence, Rassie van der Dussen has been earmarked for a debut, while Zubayr Hamza, the man in possession at No 3, is only two Tests into his career.
Similar problems abound for
England, who are trying to bed in a new top order, will rely on a couple of all-time greats to lead the bowling, and have concerns around the balance of the XI. With spinners averaging 64.77 over the last ten years in Centurion (compared to 26.46 for pacers), England seem to be leaning towards playing an all-pace attack. Both Broad and Archer have been able to resume training and seem set to take their spots alongside James Anderson.
South Africa: They look set to name two Test debutants in their XI, with van der Dussen in line to replace Bavuma and Dwaine Pretorius favoured in the allrounder spot. The home side will probably include spinner Keshav Maharaj.
England: They need to make a decision about their attack, with Leach a major doubt - he missed training again on Wednesday, as did Ollie Pope and Chris Woakes, adding to the list of players who have come down ill. Sam Curran's variation possibly edged him ahead of Woakes anyway, while Jonny Bairstow would be the prime candidate for a recall if Pope is ruled out. There is greater optimism about Stokes' involvement, with his father's condition improving.
In the spotlight
Rassie van der Dussen: Ten years ago, he was '14th man' at the Centurion Test between South Africa and England. Now he is set to make his Test debut, at the age of 30 and on the back of a 113-match first-class career that has yielded more than 7,000 runs. Van der Dussen currently averages 73.77 in ODIs; but, as he put it in the build-up to this match, 'my next big challenge is to become a three-format player'.
Dom Sibley: He is only two Tests old, but already Dom Sibley has been set a number of posing questions. How does he deal with the short ball? What are his off-side release shots? Can he convert undoubted obduracy into match-shaping scores?.
South Africa (likely): Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (wk), Dwaine Pretorius, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje. England (likely): Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root (capt), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope/Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, James Anderson, Stuart Broad. Match begins at 12pm, Oman time.
Rassie van der Dussen