England go into the Boxing Day Test much better prepared than the Proteas after they thrashed South Africa A by an innings and 91 runs in Pietermaritzburg.
This was England’s second warm-up game of the tour after they their drew against an SA Invitational XI in Potchefstroom last week.
Moeen Ali took 6-77 as the tourists bowled SA A out for 187 in their second innings. Quinton de Kock, who was somewhat controversially overlooked for South Africa’s Test squad for the first two Tests, top scored with 53 from 64 balls.
Alastair Cook, Alex Hales, Nick Compton, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and James Taylor all scored runs in the two warm-ups which should leave them more confident going into the first Test on Saturday.
In contrast, players like Hashim Amla, Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl and JP Duminy failed to make an impact in the Sunfoil Series for their respective franchises after they were released by Cricket South Africa for the first round of matches last week.
England’s bowlers also had a good outing, twice bowling out SA A for less than 200 with Steven Finn and Ali chief among the wickets, while James Anderson was rested.
Stephen Cook strengthened his case for a national call-up with an unbeaten 53 in the first innings, but other than him and De Kock the rest of the batsmen, all coming off T20 cricket, were well below par.
You could argue that England’s performances over the last week don’t mean anything, but if that is the case, why play these warm-ups in the first place?
They are now used to the conditions and have some momentum going into the first Test. South Africa are coming off a 3-0 whitewash in India and too many question marks hanging around team selections and the form of key players.