Durban - South Africa captain Hashim Amla believes England will be considerably weakened by the absence of their pace-bowling talisman Jimmy Anderson, who was ruled out of the Boxing Day Test due to a calf strain.
"Obviously Jimmy Anderson is a big bowler for them. It's a big blow for England. He's been one of the better bowlers in the world for a few years," Amla told reporters, two days ahead of the series opener.
Amla also played down England's form in their warm-up matches ahead of the four-test series, saying he was not reading anything into the tourists' positive performances.
England's top six batsmen have all scored in excess of 50 runs and despite completing a solid innings and 91 run win over a strong South Africa A team on Monday, Amla was not overly impressed.
"Both teams have come from losing previous tours. I think both teams are looking to start a resurgence again," he said.
"The fact that they beat South Africa A, for me, I wouldn't place too much emphasis on it. We know that test cricket is the ultimate and you can't replicate the pressures of test cricket," he added.
Amla's primary concern is his own team, who are coming off a one-sided series defeat in India last month that raised a number of question marks over their form.
"In international cricket there is always somebody under pressure so it's not a new thing that we are suddenly under pressure, it's just how it is in international cricket.
"Every game has a lot of consequences to it. At the start of this test series, all it takes is one good batting day to start a resurgence for our test team. The guys are used to it and are able to handle the pressure," Amla said.
South Africa have yet to decide whether to field a four-man attack with two part-time spin options or choose a specialist spinner for what is expected to be a bouncy surface.
Amla said he preferred to pick a spinner but the decision was still to be made.
"If the wicket looks like it is going to turn then I think playing a spinner comes into play. I think it gives you good balance, especially in the last innings when there is a bit of turn and it also gives the seam bowlers a bit of rest," he said.
"It seems to have turned a bit here the last few times we have played here towards the latter part of the game, so there is always merit in playing a spinner."