How different things can look after a fortnight in sport. Arriving in Cape Town two weeks ago to begin 2020 with a 1-0 series deficit to counter after an opening loss to South Africa in Durban, England ride the winds of optimism into ‘The Windy City’ and Port Elizabeth with the four-match series beautifully poised at one apiece ahead of the third Test beginning on Thursday.
Having finally opened their account for the winter tour of the Southern hemisphere at the fourth time of asking, the irrepressible Ben Stokes led the tourists to a famous Newlands win 10 days ago, with a feeling of optimism having now spread through an England side previously short of confidence after an Ashes series defeat on home turf.
Aside from Stokes’ latest Man of the Match turn, Dom Sibley‘s maiden century in just his third outing was a huge fillip to England’s problems in the batting order, whilst with the ball namesake spinner Dom Bess played a vital part in tying up the run rate in the second innings, as Joe Root‘s men went in search of their Day 5 heroics.
With a rare sniff of a series win in South Africa now a possibility, England will look to continue their momentum this week in P.E. however will do so in the face of further injury upheaval.
Root’s fitness dilemmas
Still reeling from Rory Burns‘ freak accident in the now customary kick about in training, the further blow with James Anderson‘s side strain has again hampered England’s hopes of stringing together a consistent XI.
With the tourists’ lead wicket-taker likely to miss the final Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg also, one of Mark Wood or Jofra Archer is set to be drafted in, with Chris Woakes a further possibility set to deputise for the Lancashire pace man.
All three however have their questions marks also with regard to 100% fitness, although Archer for the moment seems the most likely to step in, with Wood lacking overs during this winter period.
Should Woakes get the nod also, that would give the chance for Archer to be eased back in during the Test as the former can come into the side fresh as part of the World Cup-winning side last summer – but who was rather left to one side during the latter stages of the 2019 Ashes.
Zak Crawley will keep his place at the top of the order together with Sibley, however skipper Root himself will be managing slight malaise himself, with the Yorkshireman having suffered with a stomach bug during the past week. He is however set to play.
In terms of the beaten opposition from Cape Town, defeat is unlikely to enforce any changes for Faf du Plessis and his men, however the Proteas skipper himself is having to answer questions regarding to suitability to the role – not least his inability to win a toss.
In the knowledge South Africa suffered defeat to Sri Lanka at St. George’s Oval last time out also, the pressure has been turn up a notch on the hosts. They can perhaps look to impressive impact made by Pieter Malan at Newlands, as he looks to cement a steady partnership with Dean Elgar to open the batting.
Rassie van der Dussen also built on his burgeoning reputation with a knock of 68 last time out, however Quinton de Kock will be looking to move on from his annus horribilis in the South African second salvo that led to England’s eventual win.
After playing his final game in Cape Town, Vernon Philander will play his penultimate Test before retiring at the end of the series, and the veteran will hope to backed up with the ball by the menacing Anrich Nortje, with Kagee Rabada keen to make more of an impact at Port Elizabeth this week.
With the series finely poised going into Thursday, the reputations and futures of all 22 men involved at P.E. could shape the outcome of the series over the coming five days.
The third Test between South Africa and England begins on Thursday morning at St. George’s Oval, Port Elizabeth.
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