London - A new England era will start when Joe Root captains
the Test side against South Africa at Lord's on Thursday.
Root was appointed in February after Alastair Cook, still in
the team purely as an opening batsman, stood down but this week's match will be
England's first Test since the change of skipper.
England will hope the captaincy drives the 26-year-old
Yorkshireman on to even greater heights as it has done for two fellow star
batsmen - Australia's Steve Smith and India's Virat Kohli.
"The way Rooty goes about his cricket, he's nice and
positive the way he bats, I suspect the way he will captain the team will be
similar," said England's Australian coach Trevor Bayliss last week.
South Africa ended the Test captaincy of several England
skippers in Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss.
A similar fate, however, is unlikely to befall Root,
whatever the outcome of a four-match series, ahead of this year's Ashes
campaign in Australia.
The immediate task for Root is to return England to winning
ways in Tests after eight defeats in a 2016 that ended with a 4-0 series loss
Root's county colleague Gary Ballance has forced his way
back into the side after piling on the runs for Yorkshire even though his last
six Test innings have yielded just 49 runs in total.
Meanwhile Keaton Jennings, who attended the same
Johannesburg school as South Africa wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock, is set to
open alongside Cook - who has been scoring heavily for Essex this season -
against the country of his birth.
With veteran new ball duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad
fit to lead an attack featuring Durham quick Mark Wood, England must decide
whether to hand a debut to another paceman in Toby Roland-Jones, who would be
playing on his Middlesex home ground, or give Liam Dawson a first Test on home
soil following the Hampshire left-arm spinner's promising start in Chennai in
South Africa boast a remarkable record of having lost only
one away Test series in 10 years.
They have been without AB de Villiers in Test cricket for
more than 12 months and the talented batsman will miss the whole of this series
as he considers his international future.
South Africa too will have a new captain in Dean Elgar but
regular skipper Faf du Plessis is expected back for the second Test at
Nottingham following the birth of his first child.
"He is a gutsy player," South Africa coach Russell
Domingo said of opening batsman Elgar.
"He epitomises South African cricket to the tee."
The Proteas had a difficult start to this tour, losing to
England in both one-day and Twenty20 series either side of a first-round exit
at the Champions Trophy.
Meanwhile Domingo, who has confirmed he will re-apply for
his job as required by South Africa officials, had to return home briefly after
his mother was involved in a traffic accident.
But despite the absence of injured fast bowler Dale Steyn,
South Africa - 2-0 winners in England five years ago - boast an impressive pace
Morne Morkel is renowned for how well he bowls to
left-handers (England will have several in their top order) and Vernon
Philander is a proven performer in English conditions while Kagiso Rababa is a
"He's a phenomenal talent," said Philander of
Rabada, whose 17 Tests have already yielded 71 wickets.
South Africa are set to give a debut to Heino Kuhn, the
latest opener trying to fill the void left by retired former captain Graeme
Top-order batting is set to be a key area, with Hashim Amla
- who made South Africa's record Test score of 311 not out at The Oval in 2012
- a central figure.
Now there are fears the 34-year-old may not be the player he
was, with South Africa batting great Barry Richards saying last week: "One
of the key parts of the series is Hashim Amla versus the fast bowlers and Hashim
Amla versus himself."