After a summer of complete administrative change, South Africa embark on a new journey with the four-Test series against England starting with the traditional Boxing Day Test at Centurion.
The hosts are looking for their first points of ICC World Test Championship (WTC) campaign, while the visitors are looking to move up from the sixth position (56 points).
There is an air of excitement around the Proteas’ camp, considering the return of former greats Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis.
The hosts have made a sea of changes – especially their batting – after what has been a disastrous India tour. Temba Bavuma is ruled out, but Rassie van der Dussen is an exceptional replacement. Captain Faf du Plessis still remains their best bet to lead the batting.
Vernon Philander is playing his final series, while the combo of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje will keep the home fans excited. All-rounders Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo give the squad depth and a chance to give balance to their attack.
After a 1-0 series loss in New Zealand, England have travelled here with all the usual suspects in the squad. James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood are back in the touring party giving them a cutting edge. However, the Three Lions’ camp is struck with illness which could hamper their preparations.
Joe Denly and most of the top-order batsmen showed good form in the two practice matches, while Anderson and Chris Woakes also proved they are ready for the challenge with the ball.
South Africa have lost their last two home Tests, but haven’t lost three in a row since March 2006. Even their current rut of five straight losses is their worst and should end soon – provided the team is ready to start afresh. England lost their last away Test against South Africa, but haven’t lost two in a row in this country since 1999. But the injuries in the visiting camp to go with their dicey recent away form makes this a tough match to call. An all-seam attack from the visitors could be on display, which could challenge the hosts.
History & Statistics
- South Africa have lost their last five Tests, their worst such run since losing six in a row in 1911-12.
- South Africa have won their last five Centurion Tests.
- South Africa have failed to win only five of their 24 Centurion Tests (W19, D3, L2).
- Four of those five, however, have come against England (W1, D3, L1).
- England have lost 12 of their last 20 away Tests (W4, D4, L12).
- England have lost their last away Test against South Africa, but haven’t lost two in a row in this country since 1999.
South Africa has been a graveyard for openers, which makes Dean Elgar important for the home team’s cause. If he can bring his gritty game to the fore, the Proteas’ cause will be well served.
Ben Stokes has a history with South Africa – a superlative 258 at Newlands four years ago, and numerous run-ins with the Proteas players including Kagiso Rabada. Can he continue to pinch them?