A win in the first Test of the 4-match series could prove to be the all-important one. Both, South Africa and England return to the longer format after facing series defeats in their last tours. 1st Test win could shift the momentum towards the winning team, thereby boosting the morale of the team as well.
Visitors has had a rough past. They were beaten by Pakistan in their last series in the U.A.E. Batsmen failed to perform except Captain Cook and middle-order batsman Joe Root which led to bowlers having little targets to defend. The squad looks jumbled up for their current tour. Some players have made a comeback, some sidelined due to injury while some have been axed. Although The English team won the famous Ashes series just 4 months ago, the team since then looks very different.
Chris Woakes comes in for the injured James Anderson to play his fifth Test. “What an opportunity for him to play,” said Cook, speaking on his 31st birthday. “He’s been around the squad for a long time and he’ll be itching to make his mark.”
Anderson, 33, was almost fit enough to start in Durban and remains likely to return for the second Test.
“It’s a shame for Jimmy, but we’ve got some really good guys coming in to replace him,” said Stuart Broad, who will lead the attack in Anderson’s absence.
Fit-again Steven Finn makes a comeback to the squad as an ankle injury forces Mark Wood to remain off the field. Moeen Ali has been the surprise bowler for England as his 8 wickets in one of the warm-up matches could be taken into consideration. His slow-off-spin could trouble the batsmen or even deceive some, who would be prepared to play fast bowling majorly.
In the batting department, Nick Compton looks all set to follow Captain Alastair Cook and struggling-with-form Alex Hales as the 1st down batsman after the axing of Ian Bell. Johnny Bairstow would have to take up the duty to keep behind the wickets.
The home team, South Africa on the other hand have the job to forget what happened with them in India and take the utmost advantage of being the home team. India’s 3-0 series defeat marked their first away loss in 9 years. Practically, the Proteas have a new team and the replacements of cricketing greats Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Nitini, Mark Boucher who formed the core of the 9-year reign, still remains to be prepared or found out.
Taking out the positives from their last Test results, Rabada and Abbott were prominent finds for their nation and their bowling style to the fast pitches of South Africa could be used against the visitors. But, both these players remain to be out of the 1st Test. Spearhead Dale Steyn comes back after addressing his injury issue and is raring to go out.
“Dale has got a bit of sideline fever and he is ready to go – you can just see the venom he has been bowling within the nets today and it’s exciting,” said fellow bowler Morne Morkel. Both these bowlers could probably be the best new-ball partners of all time and both are fit to play for the 1st Test, adding up as a huge advantage for South African captain Hashim Amla.
The Proteas Captain said, “The way Dale has been bowling in the nets has been unbelievable,” Amla said. “He’s been the best bowler in the world for many years. We’re really glad to have him back.”
On the batting front, Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl remain in their squad after not-so-impressive feats in the subcontinent. “Opening the batting is the most difficult job in Test cricket,” Amla said. “Dean Elgar has been very good for us, and Stiaan van Zyl has got the full potential to be a great opener for us.”
AB de Villiers is asked to dawn the gloves as stumper in order to find a new batsman in their ranks who could contribute significantly.
Enough of paperwork analysis, moving towards the ground, The Durban pitch, last used for a limited-overs game against New Zealand in August, is hard and dry. There is a drought in Durban and a very hot sun could cause it to break up a little – if not overmuch – leaving South Africa agonising over whether to field a spinner. The groundstaff is confident in the surface, however, even suggesting it could be a draw.
South Africa could lose their no.1 spot to India if they lose even one Test in the series and England would work to make that happen so that even they could better their current Test ranking of no.6.
Predicted XI –
South Africa – 1 Stiaan van Zyl, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Hashim Amla (c), 4 Faf du Plessis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 JP Duminy, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Dane Piedt, 10 Kyle Abbott, 11 Morne Morkel.
England – 1 Alastair Cook (c), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Nick Compton, 4 Joe Root, 5 James Taylor, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Moeen Ali, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Chris Woakes, 11 Steven Finn.
Venue – Kingsmead, Durban
Date – Dec 26 – Dec 30
Time – 1:30 PM