Alastair Cook has never won a series against South Africa, but he is confident England can overturn that stat on the coming tour.
The England captain is looking to complete a clean sweep of series victories against every major Test-playing nation as England head to South Africa.
Cook has been involved in triumphs against seven of the top eight sides in the world, but has never beaten the Proteas, who have been victorious on their last two visits to England with a drawn series five years ago in South Africa in between.
Hashim Amla’s side go into the upcoming series having been beaten 3-0 in India, but Cook knows his side will have to be at their best to overcome the world’s top-ranked Test team.
‘The India result, you can’t read too much into it,’ Cook said. ‘Clearly if they had won comfortably in India they would have been full of confidence, but we’re seeing at the moment how hard it is to win away from home.
‘We aren’t going to read too much into that; we’ve got a good opportunity to play them in their conditions.’
England are coming off a 2-0 series loss to Pakistan in the UAE so both teams will be eager to get back to winning ways.
‘When you say Pakistan away, South Africa away, it’s two tough tours,’ Cook said. ‘On reflection of that Pakistan tour, losing 2-0 hurts me quite a lot because I didn’t think we were that far off.
‘We’ve got another chance to beat the No 1 side away from home and we definitely have an opportunity. It’s one side I haven’t beaten in a series. They’ve had a bit of change, when you lose greats of the game like Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Mark Boucher, there is always going to be a bit of evolution in the side.
‘Trying to replace them is nigh on impossible, especially in one generation. They’re certainly a different side from when I’ve played them before. It would mean a huge amount – that’s the challenge we’ve got ahead of us. Reflecting back to Pakistan, something inside me says we had an opportunity that we couldn’t quite take and I wonder if this is an opportunity we can take.’
Cook’s squad features several changes from the one beaten in the United Arab Emirates, with Gary Ballance and Nick Compton returning to the fold.
He admitted that like South Africa, England do not have a settled top seven and they will have to cope without the experienced Ian Bell, who was dropped for this tour after a poor run of form in 2015.
‘We haven’t quite got a settled top seven, there’s no doubt about that. The runs we’re averaging – I think we’re down in sixth or seventh or even eighth in terms of what we’re producing as a top order and that’s causing us to catch up in the game.
‘So with Gary coming back, Nick coming back; they’ve had a taste of it before and there is a real opportunity for people to stake their claim alongside Alex Hales. We know Joe Root will be batting at four. There’s opportunity for people to put their hands up and make a name for themselves.’