South Africa’s Keegan Petersen has no doubt first-innings runs hold the key to the outcome of the third Test against England at The Oval starting on Thursday.
The Proteas won the first Test by an innings and 12 runs at Lord’s only for England to level the three-match contest at 1-1 with an even more emphatic innings and 85-run victory at Old Trafford, with both games finished inside three days.
In the second Test, Ben Stokes made his first hundred as England captain, with wicketkeeper Ben Foakes reaching three figures as well for the home side.
South Africa have managed just one individual fifty so far this series – opener Sarel Erwee’s 73 at Lord’s.
The Proteas have a fine pace attack featuring Kagiso Rabada and express quick Anrich Nortje, which has helped propel them to four undefeated series prior to this campaign, but have decisions to make over their batting lineup.
Batsman Rassie van der Dussen has already been ruled out of the finale with a finger injury.
With Aiden Markram averaging a mere 15.56 in his last nine Tests, there could be a double alteration to the batting lineup, with both Ryan Rickelton and Khaya Zondo in line to be recalled.
Petersen made a gutsy 42 in South Africa’s second innings at Old Trafford but knows such scores rarely win matches.
“I think it is obvious we need to score hundreds up top,” Petersen, still awaiting his first Test century after nine matches, told reporters on Tuesday.
“It hasn’t been there for a while and the lower order has saved us a few times, but I think it is evident the batsmen need to step up and get a couple of big scores.
“I think both Test matches [in this series] were lost in the first innings when it comes to batting … the team who can play that first innings better is the team that will come out on top.”
Proteas left-arm seamer Marco Jansen – unlucky to be dropped in Manchester – may return after the policy of playing a second spinner in Simon Harmer at Old Trafford was negated by England only batting once.
England too will make at least one change, after batsman Jonny Bairstow suffered a freak leg injury playing golf.
Bairstow has been in brilliant form this year, scoring 1,061 runs, including six centuries, in 10 Tests.
His place is set to be taken by 23-year-old uncapped Yorkshire teammate Harry Brook.
England played a very attacking style of cricket earlier in the summer after Brendon McCullum took over as coach, but batted more reservedly in their second Test win.
A pace attack of 40-year-old James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad, well supported by Stokes, ensured there was no respite for the Proteas.
“I think that the way we batted, bowled and fielded all game is like the benchmark of the standards which we set,” said Stokes, who took over as captain from Joe Root with England having won just one of their previous 17 Tests.
“The energy throughout the whole week didn’t drop.”
© Agence France-Presse