• Warm-up matches: What we learned

    England’s two warm-up matches proved successful in their preparations ahead of the Test series. Here’s what the Proteas need to keep an eye on …

    Before we delve into England’s players, there is a certain South African who can’t do too much more to alert the national selectors. Highveld Lions captain Stephen Cook, who topped the Sunfoil Series run-scoring charts with five centuries last season, added an SA A fifty to his CV last week. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, as he carried his bat through, scoring the only fifty and facing more than half of the deliveries of the entire innings. These are qualities you want in an opener, and his experience and leadership will make him difficult to ignore should Stiaan van Zyl or Dean Elgar struggle.

    Steven Finn wasn’t originally named in the squad after suffering from a foot injury that kept him out of the Pakistan series. With Mark Wood ruled out, too, the news that Finn returned would have delighted the English faithful, and his match-figures of 6-64 against SA A means he is on a rapid road to recovery, and is likely to play on Boxing Day. This is now of even more importance to England if James Anderson is ruled out.

    On paper, it was a side that was supposed to give England a real go and soften them up for the Proteas, but very little was achieved in that regard, as SA A went down by an innings and 91 runs. Much more was expected from the likes of Reeza Hendricks and Rilee Rossouw at the top of the order, as it was a genuine opportunity for these players to show what the Proteas are missing. Khaya Zondo didn’t do his international future any favours himself with a pair. Chris Morris, a potential all-rounder candidate for the Test side, went for a wicketless 93 runs from 25 overs.

    It would be naive to say he’s the real deal after a pair of warm-up matches, but it appears that England can boast something that the Proteas have struggled to find since Jacques Kallis retired on Christmas Day in 2013 – a genuine all-rounder. Ben Stokes might well be the Proteas’ greatest concern, as he plundered 158 against the Invitational XI, 66 against SA A, and in the combined 25 overs he bowled throughout, took five wickets.

    Nick Compton, who will return to his province of birth on Boxing Day, looks set to return to Test cricket after a two-and-a-half-year absence. Originally seen as competition to Alex Hales for the opening berth, Compton has batted at No 3 for both warm-up games, forcing Gary Ballance out of the reckoning after Ian Bell was dropped from the squad altogether. He’s looked solid, too, translating his first-class form to the SA decks with watchful, but classy knocks. It appears England aren’t quite done with their South African contingent yet.

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    Tom Sizeland