South Africa v England 3rd Test preview: Amid selection troubles, focus on grabbing early advantage
A four-match Test series is best set up with the score line showing 1-1, going into the last two games. While South Africa are struggling with transformation targets, England's struggle is to field 11 fit players on the park.
South Africa will not have happy memories of Port Elizabeth as the last Test they played on this venue saw Sri Lanka beat them.
Toss to play a vital role
The toss has played a very crucial role in the first two Test matches of the series. Had Joe Root called conventionally in the first Test and decided to bat first, England would have been leading the series 2-0 in all likelihood.
He learnt from his mistake and reaped the results. Not to say that the performance did not have any role in it, but it obviously doesn't help to bat last on crumbling surfaces when the pressure of either saving the match or reaching a particular target is too much.
This is why teams batting last seldom win in Test cricket. The captain winning the toss in Port Elizabeth will decide to bat first. If the batsmen can go through the first couple of hours without substantial damage, that team will have considerable advantage.
No changes for Proteas
Looks like South Africa will miss their transformation target of six players of colour, including two Africans, for the third consecutive time. Rassie van der Dussen and Pieter Malan have grabbed their opportunities with both hands and it would be next to impossible for Faf du Plessis to drop either of the two.
With the Proteas having named the same squad for the remaining Tests, their thought process is quite clear. Like the squad, they are not expected to make any changes to the playing XI either.
Archer and Woakes likely to be in
On the other hand, England are struggling to keep 11 fit players on the field. After Rory Burns was ruled out of the series due to an ankle injury and Jofra Archer injured his elbow to miss the second Test, a side strain will keep James Anderson out of the series as well.
The two options that England are most intent on are Jofra Archer and Mark Wood. However, both have have not gained 100% fitness. It is highly unlikely that the English management will pick Mark Wood for this game, with him not having enough overs under his belt. In a recent interview, the pacer himself said that it is most likely that he will be back in the side for the final Test at Johannesburg.
In that case, the only options that England are left with are that of Chris Woakes and Craig Overton. Both rely on swinging the ball and their inclusion will make the English bowling attack one-dimensional.
The visitors will hope that Archer gets fit in time for selection. While risking Mark Wood will not be a very sensible option, the ideal thing for England would be for jofra Archer to regain fitness and take his place in the side. They can then consider replacing Sam Curran with Chris Woakes to fashion a well-rounded bowling attack.
Dom Bess is also likely to retain his place. Even though he was not a crucial wicket-taker in the Newlands Test, he bottled one end did not give much away.
If this was not enough, Joe Root missed the team's practice session due to illness, or "upset stomach" as was the official word. England will only hope that it has nothing to do with the bug that has already effected half of the English squad and that the skipper is fit in time to lead the team in the third Test.
Lot more at stake than just winning another Test
The series is beautifully set up at 1-1 with two games still to go. There is a lot at stake for both teams, much more than just winning another match.
England have not had a great run in away Test matches, the highlights being the defeats against West Indies and New Zealand. The team would expect to win the series to not only gain some crucial World Test Championship points but also put their campaign on the right track in Test cricket.
This becomes all the more essential with the team undergoing a generational shift with the likes of Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Dom Bess and Sam Curran coming into the team and making a difference.
The series will be even more crucial for the Proteas as they have overhauled their entire set up and have brought in some of the most credible names in South African cricket. A win would reflect positively on their already glorious track record. At the same time, they will also have to take some blame for the loss.
The future of skipper Faf du Plessis is also under the scanner. A win in this Test will help see some of those fears allayed.
The hosts will want to give a winning farewell to Vernon Philander. At the same time, a Test victory will also come as a confidence booster for some of the young South African players like Dwayne Pretorius, Rassie van der Dussen, Anrich Nortje, Zubayr Hamza and Pieter Malan.
Here's a look at the predicted playing XI of both teams:
South Africa - Pieter Malan, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis(c), Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock(wk), Dwaine Pretorius, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje
England - Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Denly, Joe Root(c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler(wk), Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer
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