Durban - South Africa and England meet at Kingsmead from Saturday in the first
of four Tests between two evenly-match teams, both seeking a return to
South Africa were trounced 3-0 by India recently in
their biggest setback since becoming the top-ranked test team in 2012,
while England were beaten 2-0 by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in
their most recent series.
Both teams will relish a return to more
familiar conditions after struggling on slow, spin-friendly pitches
during their defeats.
The absence of leading bowler James Anderson
because of a calf strain is a major blow to England at a ground where
swing bowlers often prosper, while the return to action after injury of
Dale Steyn is a boost for South Africa.
But England have reason
for confidence after showing outstanding form in two warm-up games,
while South Africa’s batsmen, most of whom failed in India, were unable
to rediscover their best form while playing in four-day domestic
matches, with only Temba Bavuma making a half-century.
AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis opted to rest ahead of the Tests.
want to start well. After our performance in India which didn’t go too
well that will be important," said South Africa captain Hashim Amla.
matter whom we come across on the day it's important for us to start
well. For us it's not about who is leading the attack for England, it
doesn't make a difference to us.
"We are faced with our own challenges and it’s something that everybody in the team is looking forward to."
will be encouraged by their record at Kingsmead, where South Africa
have their poorest record at a home venue, with nine wins and six
defeats in 21 matches since returning to Test cricket in 1992.
have not been beaten at the ground during this period, drawing three
tests and winning the 2009/10 encounter by an innings.
Both teams rely primarily on their fast bowlers and both have question marks against their opening batting combinations.
England captain Alastair Cook has been a heavy run-scorer in recent
times, he has had a succession of opening partners who have been tried
and found wanting. Alex Hales, who will win his first cap on Saturday,
is the latest to try to win a long-term place.
Dean Elgar has had
reasonable success at the top of the order for South Africa but remains
relatively inexperienced, while Stiaan van Zyl was converted into an
opening batsman and could manage only 56 runs in five innings in India,
falling to offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin on each occasion.
The ability of the openers to see off the strong new ball attacks of both teams could be a big factor.
teams have opted to lengthen their batting orders by handing the
wicketkeeping gloves to men who first won selection as specialist
batsmen. De Villiers, South Africa’s best batsman and the only man to
reach 50 against India, will keep wicket for the hosts, while Jonny
Bairstow will fill the role for England.
Neither team has an
established specialist spin bowler but offspinner Moeen Ali has done
well for England in addition to being a highly capable batsman at No 8.
Africa have on occasions opted for an all-seam attack at Kingsmead but
Amla said he was reluctant to go in without a spinner, which is likely
to mean that steady offspinner Dane Piedt will win his third cap.
Stiaan van Zyl, Dean Elgar, Hashim
Amla (captain), Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (wk), Temba Bavuma, JP
Duminy, Dale Steyn, Dane Piedt, Kyle Abbott, Morne Morkel
Alastair Cook (captain), Alex Hales, Nick Compton, Joe Root, James
Taylor, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Stuart
Broad, Chris Woakes, Steven Finn