Your essential guide to the third Test between England and South Africa, which starts at The Oval on Thursday.
The Oval is about to host its 100th Test, but in its 137-year history it has witnessed the South Africans walk off the field as victors only once. A walk around the ground in south London will take you on a journey through time, as Surrey’s famous Test cricketers, new and old, are pinned up on the pillars to encapsulate the ground’s most cherished moments. What they don’t have, is one of South Africa’s finest moments, for it was at this ground that bore witness to South Africa’s first, and to date only, triple century.
Run your way through the list of the highest run-scorers at the ground, and the first South African batsman you’ll see is Bruce Mitchell, who carved out an incredibly understated career throughout the 1930s and 40s. Next on that list is Hashim Amla, who, from three innings, has scored 423 runs. Fifty-five more, and Amla will surpass Australia’s Allan Border as the highest run-scorer by an overseas batsman.
Of those 423, 311 came in 2012, in what was the highest total between the sides, and one of the most crushing victories seen at the ground. An innings and 12-run defeat was the outcome as the Proteas scored 637-2, ending their Oval hoodoo in spectacular fashion. It’s expected to be a batting track again, as the sides gear up for a contest in a series that is fantastically poised. South Africa have the momentum after their 340-run victory at Trent Bridge, with all the pressure suddenly on England, who came under an almost unnecessary amount of criticism for that defeat a fortnight ago.
Kagiso Rabada: It’s more than just being fired up and getting one up on Ben Stokes … Rabada’s bowling will be crucial to the Proteas’ cause if they want to go 2-1 up on a surface renowned for its batting. The 22-year-old’s pace could well prove the difference. Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander were playing in that contest in 2012, and they took seven wickets between them. It was Dale Steyn who launched the killer blow with a five-wicket haul in the second innings, and it’s Rabada who needs to fill Steyn’s void now. He’ll look to continue an excellent record against the English that has seen him collect 28 wickets from the four matches he’s played against them.
Keaton Jennings: Different series, same old issues for England, who continue to struggle to nail down an opening partner for Alastair Cook. Since Jennings struck that century on debut in Mumbai, he’s failed to push on. He came into this series far from sure of his place in the side, and scores of 8, 33, 0 and 3 certainly don’t help his cause. This could well be the former SA U19 captain’s last opportunity to show that he deserves a place in this side. England’s top order was wobbly at Trent Bridge, so contributions from Jennings will be important.
Kagiso Rabada comes straight back into the side following his suspension from the second Test, with Duanne Olivier making way. The Proteas are expected to resist the temptation to field an extra batsman, after the make-up of the side in Nottingham proved so successful. If they do, Theunis de Bruyn will come in for Morris, but it’s unlikely.
England have confirmed that Tom Westley will come in at No 3 in place of the injured and out-of-sorts Gary Ballance. It will be interesting to see who they pencil in at No 8. The uncapped Dawid Malan is an option as an extra batsman, but with spin not expected to play a huge role, bowling all-rounder Toby Roland-Jones stands a chance to come in and make his debut at the expense of Liam Dawson. Chris Woakes remains on the sidelines.
England: 1. Alastair Cook 2. Keaton Jennings 3. Tom Westley 4. Joe Root 5. Jonny Bairstow 6. Ben Stokes 7. Moeen Ali 8. Stuart Broad 9. Toby Roland-Jones 10. Mark Wood 11. James Anderson
Proteas: 1. Dean Elgar 2. Heino Kuhn 3. Hashim Amla 4. Quinton de Kock 5. Faf du Plessis 6. Temba Bavuma 7. Vernon Philander 8. Chris Morris 9. Keshav Maharaj 10. Kagiso Rabada 11. Morne Morkel
– This is the 100th Test at The Oval.
– South Africa have only won once at The Oval in 14 attempts. England have won six, while seven have been drawn.
– Hashim Amla’s 311 in 2012 is the second-highest score at The Oval, and one of only two triple centuries at the ground. Len Hutton is the other triple-centurion after his 364 against Australia in 1938.
– Amla and Jacques Kallis hold the record for the third-highest partnership at The Oval. Their 377 third-wicket stand in 2012 is the highest third-wicket partnership and highest partnership by a South African pairing at the ground.
– The highest score at the ground between South Africa and England was South Africa’s 637-2, which resulted in an innings and 12-run victory for the Proteas.
– Temba Bavuma is 36 runs away from 1 000 Test runs.
Stokes on Rabada battle: ‘I have no bad blood with him, or any grudges – if anything it just shows he cares about how he performs.’
Amla on beating England in the second Test: ‘You can’t look too much into the win. They could come out playing a good game of Test cricket. What’s important for us is that we don’t worry about them, it’s about what we do.’
Charl Langeveldt on the return of Rabada: ‘Having KG back is a big bonus for us. He is a youngster with a lot of energy, he will come with a lot of energy. I have no doubt he will step up.’
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images