Your essential guide to the first Test between England and South Africa, which starts at Lord’s on Thursday.
For the traditionalists, South Africa’s tour of the UK starts now. Forget the ODI and T20 series defeats, forget the group-stage exit from the Champions Trophy. This is Test cricket, and if the Proteas can win this, then the rest will be forgotten.
New personnel, new conditions and new challenges … it’s a duel etched deep in history, and if we’re talking about South Africa’s dominance at Lord’s, then we’re talking about a stretch longer than the majority of us have been alive for.
You’d have to go back to 1960 to witness an English victory at the Home of Cricket, and back to 1998 to experience an England series victory on their own turf. It’s a proud record that the South Africans can boast, but it will be tougher than ever to keep it intact.
Considering that the Proteas are ranked No 2 in the world off the back of an unbeaten Test series season, and possessing a similar lineup excepting Faf du Plessis’ absence from the first Test, it would seem strange that the English are strong favourites for this, but that’s the reality.
South Africa have a new opener in Heino Kuhn, a new skipper in Dean Elgar, and a new middle-order batsman in Theunis de Bruyn, and they remain without the services of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. But the tourists are no strangers to being the underdogs in the longest format, and last season they successfully fought through that.
The only side England struggle against on a consistent basis at home are indeed the Proteas, but one thing they will avoid for the first time in four series against them at home is the resignation of their captain. Joe Root will be tasked with leading the side for the first time. It’s a new era for England, and Root will be desperate to perform on his first assignment.
Cricket’s HQ in London usually brings out the best (think Hashim Amla), and worst (think Jacques Kallis) of visiting players, and the Proteas will need the likes of Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel to bring their experience to the table as they look to correct the wrongs of their 2-1 series defeat in their own backyard early last year.
All eyes on the skippers who will be leading their side out for the first time. Dean Elgar‘s stint will be short-lived, and there will be no room to let him settle in to the role. He’s the constant at the top of the order, and with three fifties and three centuries last season, he’s on a good run of form. It will be interesting to see if he can juggle the captaincy with the bat, and it’s important that he does, for partnerships up front against the new ball could separate the boys from the men in this series.
We’ve seen players such as Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson excel with the added responsibilities. Now it’s Joe Root‘s turn. He’s been nurtured in to the role, he’s got Alastair Cook with him every step of the way, and he’s got the respect of his colleagues. This is a challenge he should be able to adapt to, but things can turn very quickly if he doesn’t produce the results.
Faf du Plessis is the only notable absentee due to complications surrounding the birth of his child, but other than the dropping of Stephen Cook, it’s a familiar lineup. Heino Kuhn will make his Test debut, and Theunis de Bruyn replaces Du Plessis. Vernon Philander has been declared fit, which will be a huge boost for their three-pronged pace attack.
The only injury to England’s regular XI is that of Chris Woakes, who is set to miss the first two Tests. Like Philander, Stuart Broad passed a late fitness test and bowled all 10 overs in the One Day Cup final. Woakes’ absence means Liam Dawson is likely to step in, with the news that they plan to play two spinners. Former SA U19 skipper Keaton Jennings is set to open alongside Cook, with Haseeb Hameed’s recent form making him unselectable. Gary Ballance is set for a return at No 4, unless Root returns to that position.
ENGLAND: Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Dawson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson
SOUTH AFRICA: Heino Kuhn, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel
South Africa: DWDWW
England haven’t beaten South Africa at Lord’s since 1960. South Africa have won four out of the past five matches there.
Graeme Smith has scored the most runs between the two teams at the ground. He scored 411 runs in the three matches he has played there – 150 more than any other batsman.
Four South Africans remain from the 2012 clash (Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel), and four remain from England’s lineup too (Alastair Cook, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, James Anderson).
Vernon Philander on AB’s continued absence: ‘We’re a settled unit now. The boys have moved on, the boys have obviously done well over the last 12 months. Our focus is not on one particular player. Our focus is on the team and getting the team to do well.’
Graeme Smith speaking his mind about the Proteas’ chances: ‘To be honest with you I’m a little bit uneasy about this Test series. Since we’ve arrived in England, if we’re honest, the team has looked flat; it has looked like something is missing.’
Paul Adams believes a lot will rest on new skipper Elgar and debutant Kuhn: ‘It’s very important how they start. When you play in England the new ball is very important. They need to see it off at first and build partnerships from there.’
Photo: Dan Mullen/Getty Images