England vs South Africa, 1st Test Preview: Elgar & Co eager to produce Bazzball's kryptonite
Nursing an ankle ligament injury, Kagiso Rabada is in a race against time to make the XI.
A few things have happened since the England players last put on whites in a thrilling 7-wicket victory against India. England's Test captain Ben Stokes retired from ODI cricket, the Commonwealth Games were held with resounding success in Birmingham, England's white-ball fortunes dwindled under the leadership of Jos Buttler and the domestic white-ball season is well and truly underway.
We, however, pick up the thread exactly from where we left it: Bazzball. England's new men's Test head coach Brendon McCullum may or may not like it but the phrase is now engraved in cricketing lingo for eternity.
Rub of the green
After managing to win just one Test match in 17 attempts, England have flipped the tables in the last four Test matches, winning each of them more comprehensively than the last one.
A thumping 3-0 series victory over New Zealand was followed by a record run chase in the last innings against India and all eyes will now be on whether or not the current method of the England batters, going hell for leather, is sustainable or not.
England have played some sensational cricket of late, led by Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root. At the same time, one also has to concede that they have had the rub of the green, and some.
The red ball has hardly swung this summer, highlighted by Joe Root's statement that he currently prefers to bat against the red ball than the white one, given the diametrically opposite manner in which both balls are behaving.
The pitches too have been the most batting friendly over the last 5 years and haven't really broken down on the last couple of days, assisting England to chase down mammoth totals.
Robinson, Overton might have to wait their turn
There won't be a lot of change in England's philosophy or personnel, apart from Ben Foakes coming in in place of Sam Billings after having recovered from COVID-19.
Both Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson are in the England squad but they might have to wait their turn with Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Matty Potts currently ahead of them in the pecking order and England showing more and more faith in their lead spinner Jack Leach.
Proteas geared up to challenge hosts
After acing white-ball cricket, South Africa did not have an ideal outing in the four day practice match against England Lions, losing by a massive margin of an innings and 56 runs.
However, one can never really read too much into warm-up matches and South Africa will be keen to become the first team to put up a strong resistance against the buzz word that is Bazzball.
There isn't a lot of room for change in their top seven of Dean Elgar, Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram, Khaya Zondo, Rassie van der Dussen and Kyle Verreynne but there are a few ways in which the Proteas can mix and match their bowling.
Keshav Maharaj was utterly ineffective in the practice match but is still likely to play ahead of Simon Harmer. With Duanne Olivier having been ruled out of the series due to injury and Kagiso Rabada nursing damaged ankle ligaments, Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje look like certainties.
Marco Jansen will be South Africa's third pacer if Rabada doesn't recover in time. If he does, don't rule out the possibility of South Africa going in with a four-prong pace attack, with Markram doing the spin duties.
Predicted Playing XIs
South Africa - Dean Elgar (c), Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram, Khaya Zondo, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Marco Jansen/Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje
England - Alex Lees, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes (c), Ben Foakes (wk), Matty Potts, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, James Anderson
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