Eng­land hope to im­prove tour­ing record

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

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.

The buzz

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?.

Teams

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

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