• Five England players to watch

    The England squad touch down in South Africa having endured mixed fortunes in Test cricket in 2019.

    Here, we look at five men who could have a significant influence on the four-match Test series between South Africa and England. 

    • Joe Root

    The England skipper ended a long century drought in the series loss to New Zealand and his return to form gives the tourists’ top order a much-more solid look.

    Root was establishing himself as England’s best batsman the last time the side were out in South Africa, but is now at a point in his career where he needs to dominate attacks to get any plaudits.

    The skipper seems to have lost some ground on the other members of the so-called big four, but a big series could give him something Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson all failed to achieve the last time they visited South Africa.

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    • Jofra Archer

    Archer appeared to be feeling the effects of a busy first year in international cricket at times during the series in New Zealand, but England needs him back to his best.

    Pitch preparation will be a tricky task for South Africa’s groundsmen. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they looked to play to the Proteas’ strength, which is raw pace. Archer is the English bowler best equipped to deal with those conditions.

    Archer finds himself in a similar space to which Kagiso Rabada has inhabited for the last few seasons, where he could be asked to both bowl a fair chunk of overs and act as a strike bowler.

    • Jos Buttler

    It has been a whirlwind 18 months or so for Buttler, but he heads into the series against the Proteas as England’s first-choice wicketkeeper.

    His ability to marshall the tail and tack runs on to a total with great haste make his wicket one the Proteas will put a premium on.

    It is clear that, should Jonny Bairstow return to the Test XI, Buttler would now retain the gloves at least in the immediate future, allowing the man he succeeded to focus on shoring up the shaky middle order.

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    The presence of a third wicketkeeper-batsman in Ollie Pope serves more as motivation for Buttler than a real threat to his place in the team. He has yet to add to his maiden Test century scored against India in 2018, but has consistently scored runs on difficult surfaces and in trying circumstances.

    Jos Buttler
    • Ben Stokes

    If South Africa had the power to remove one England player from the upcoming Test series, there is no doubt that they would pick Stokes.

    His century in the Ashes series at Headingley was one of the finest Test innings ever seen, and he is good enough to command a place as either a batsman or a bowler. There are some concerns about his workload as a result of his versatility, but the big man is unlikely to gripe.

    Stokes plays his cricket on the ragged edge at times, but the Proteas won’t need to be reminded how dangerous he can be after his double ton at Newlands in 2016.

    With the ball, he has a habit of claiming big wickets. When England and South Africa last met, Stokes was recovering from injury and wasn’t yet back up to speed with the ball. The Proteas should be wary of him as a wicket-taker in this series, though.

    • Chris Woakes

    The unsung hero of the England bowling attack and a handy lower-order batsman, Woakes’ impact goes unnoticed at times because of his no-nonsense manner.

    He is, however, one of England’s quicker bowlers and has also attained a remarkable consistency since bouncing back from a rocky start to his Test career.

    Woakes did not cover himself in glory on the last tour of South Africa, leaving with a Test bowling average of 63.75, but in his last 10 matches in the ultimate format has snapped up 32 wickets.

    He is the kind of bowler who should do well in South African conditions and is likely to take the new ball alongside veteran Jimmy Anderson.

    Photo: Gallo Images

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