Less than four weeks is all it took to determine which unsettled side of the two will end up finding their missing pieces of the puzzle. At the end of the first Test in Centurion, it seemed as if South Africa would somehow cling on to a series win or at least a draw before the Englishmen fought till death in the second Test to put the Proteas away.
And England’s ascendancy continued in the third Test in Port Elizabeth which brought about a more commanding performance to secure an innings victory. It was a triumph, the tone for which was set by hundreds from Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope. But most importantly, their batsmen followed the best practices from the previous match to set the platform from where they could dictate the terms. And they did in a way that South Africa couldn’t claw their way back in the match.
Another youngster in the form of Dom Bess found another echelon on his way to achieving the first five wickets in an innings – a feat that no other spinner from England accomplished since Derek Underwood in 1975. In the second Test in Cape Town, the off-spinner merely did the job of containing the batsmen. Yet, he produced a wicket each in two innings and a crucial one at that. In the previous Test, though, Bess made things happen by applying a series of small variations to lure the batsmen into making errors.
As a long-awaited series win is in sight, England are also contemplating a thought of giving Jofra Archer the nod for the final Test in Johannesburg. The pace of Mark Wood largely unsettled the home side and the pacy Wanderers deck could provoke the visitors to squeeze in a four-man pace attack. It means that Dom Bess, who finished with a five-wicket haul in Port Elizabeth, has an outside chance of missing out.
The most fundamental concern that swirls around the South African camp is the absence of Kagiso Rabada, who copped one demerit point and a ban from one match due to his on-field conduct. The Proteas enjoyed only one good morning in the whole of the third Test when on day five Keshav Maharaj and Dane Paterson let themselves loosen up to slash the margin of defeat.
But it doesn’t cover up for the four woeful mornings they endured. And as captain Faf Du Plessis prepares for what could be his swansong at home in whites, South Africa face a stiff task of avoiding another series defeat at home. South Africa have also lost last seven out of eight Tests with four of them coming at home.
The South Africans have included the likes of Temba Bavuma, Beuran Hendricks, and Andile Phehlukwayo for the final Test. Temba Bavuma, fresh from his knock of 180 for the Lions against Dolphins, could come in for Zubayr Hamza. With Kagiso Rabada set to miss the fourth Test, Dwaine Pretorious or Beauran Hendricks may slot in his place.
Predicted XI: Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Temba Bavuma, Faf Du Plessis(c), Rassie Van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock(wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Dwaine Pretorious/Beauran Hendricks, Anrich Nortje, Dane Paterson
As mentioned above, England could slot in Jofra Archer, who looked sharp in the nets, to unleash a four-person pace bowling attack. It would be cruel on Dom Bess to miss out after his impressive showing in Port Elizabeth. The off-spinner can use the bounce at the Wanderers to his advantage. Another scenario could be Mark Wood making way for Jofra Archer. The former last played consecutive Tests back in July 2017.
Predicted XI: Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root(c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler(wk), Sam Curran, Dom Bess/Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad
Focus will be on
Faf Du Plessis (South Africa)
None other than the captain himself. Faf Du Plessis desperately needs runs under his belt to take control of a floundering batting line-up. The skipper hasn’t scored a Test century since January 2019 and hasn’t passed fifty in nine innings. Like a warrior, Du Plessis has refused to let South Africa at the altar by quitting midway even when things are getting tough. In the absence of Rabada, the 35-year old has to field a relatively inexperienced bowling attack. Nevertheless, he must do the needful one last time at home to give South Africa something to cheer about.
Ollie Pope (England)
Skipper Joe Root backed Ollie Pope to break a plethora of records for England after he struck a century in Port Elizabeth to receive the man of the match award. In his short career, Ollie Pope has shown the hunger to bat for longer periods and could be the best specialist batsman to walk in the side since Joe Root in 2012.
Pope struck an invaluable half-century in the first innings of the second Test and went on to become amongst the youngest centurions for England in the third Test. The tour of South Africa has indeed come as a significant breakthrough for his career and the 22-year-old will want to finish it on a high.
Head to Head
Total – 152
Won by South Africa – 34
Won by England – 63
Drawn Tests – 55
England last lost a Test series in South Africa back in 1999/00. Since then, three sequences have been contested in South Africa of which, England have won two and one resulted in a draw.
7 – Keshav Maharaj needs seven wickets to go past Peter Pollock’s tally of 116 Test wickets.
TV – Sony Networks
Live Streaming – Sony LIV
Match timings – 1:30 pm (IST), 8:00 am (GMT)
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