Your essential guide to the fourth Test between England and South Africa, which starts at Old Trafford on Friday.
Rain is threatening to put a dampener on this contest. Drizzle, at the very least, is expected every single day, with heavy downpours forecast on day five. Faf du Plessis and Co will have to factor this in, because they won’t be able to just sit back. They’re 2-1 down, and they’re looking to avoid losing a series in England for the first time since 1998.
What the Proteas can look forward to, is having a fully fit side, with a ‘70%’ Vernon Philander from the 239-run defeat at The Oval now a 100% one. Old Trafford is generally a bat-first pitch, and all matches in this series have been won by winning the toss and batting first. But the overcast conditions are expected to be more useful for the bowlers in Manchester, and since bowling has largely been South Africa’s strength in this series, it could be, as Faf du Plessis usually says at the toss, ‘a good toss to lose’.
This could well be coach Russell Domingo’s last outing at the helm of the Proteas, and the side will be fired up to put in one last performance to end what has been a dismal tour to the UK. If they don’t do it for Domingo, then a lot of them will want to do it for themselves. Dean Elgar has been the only consistent performer in the Proteas’ top five. Hashim Amla showed signs of form in the first Test, but Du Plessis will be eager to lead from the front after his 0 and 1 at The Oval, and there has to be a case for him to take the responsibility to bat one position higher.
England found some balance to their side last week, but they will be eager to fix their inconsistent performances, and the Proteas will want to cash in and tie this series before they head back home.
Faf du Plessis: The Proteas skipper walked away from The Oval, having never played a shot. On both occasions, he left fullish deliveries, off James Anderson and Ben Stokes respectively, that swung in enough to crash on to the pads, and Du Plessis wasted a review both times. You can’t go as far as to say that he’s out of form, as he scored 63 in the victory at Trent Bridge, but he’s such a vital part of that middle order, and a large portion of the work has to come from him. There’s a huge case for him to bat at No 4 and move Quinton de Kock one down to No 5.
Heino Kuhn: We’ll only find out at the toss whether Kuhn is playing, and keeping Aiden Markram out of the side, but he is expected to play after Du Plessis suggested that he gets the whole series to prove himself. That means the 33-year-old might well have one last chance to show that he’s a Test player. A high score of 34 from six innings isn’t good enough, and the variety of ways in which he’s been losing his wicket suggest a number of technical, and perhaps mental, flaws to his game. He’s capable of scoring big runs, and he needs to prove it at Old Trafford, should he get another opportunity to do so.
England are unlikely to change a winning formula, and the Proteas will probably stick to their balance too, with Markram’s inclusion ahead of Kuhn the only possibility.
England: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Tom Westley, Joe Root, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Toby Roland-Jones, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel
The last time that South Africa played at Old Trafford was in 1998, which ended in a draw.
The highest score by a South African on the ground is the 210 runs Gary Kirsten scored against England in 1998. This is the sixth-highest score by a South African against England.
Jacques Kallis and Gary Kirsten hold the record for the highest second-wicket partnership at the ground with 238 runs.
None of the current players in the Proteas squad have played a Test at Old Trafford.
Faf du Plessis on Dean Elgar: ‘Hopefully, the batters can respond well, because he showed us how you need to bat in Test match cricket. It’s never easy, it’s about applying yourself, absorbing a lot of pressure, even at times when it’s really uncomfortable, like Dean showed.’
Du Plessis on Heino Kuhn’s selection: ‘Opening the batting, as a lot of people say, is extremely hard, especially in England and against a high-quality seam attack. I think it’s important that we weigh that into the equation and give someone a fair run. I can’t tell you what’s happening in the last Test, but I think it’ll be fair on Heino to give him the series.’
Vernon Philander on the fourth Test: ‘There is everything to play for. We let ourselves down and there is everything to play for. The series has been a roller-coaster, so have the margins of victory and defeat. The boys are ready for this one, we have had a few hard chats, but the players will take ownership of their performances and improve in the next match.’
Keaton Jennings talks about his recent form: ‘I have had a couple of good chats with the guys over the last couple of days and, regardless of what happens, I have learned a whole heap about myself and the whole stage of Test cricket. Cooky [Alastair Cook] has been awesome with me. He has added a lot of value to me. Hopefully, we can get stuck in and build a stand.’
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