Centurion: England will kick-off their tour of South Africa with a test series of four matches, the first of which is scheduled to be played at the Super Sport Park here from Thursday.
England have lost key players to illness, while South Africa, with their revamped structure, are on the path of recovery. The two teams, both wounded but dangerous, are hungry to have a go at each other.
Both England and South Africa are playing their second ICC Test Championship series. While England are third on the table with two wins, South Africa are last, having been swept by India.
There is, however, a fresh optimism about Faf du Plessis' men. A new coaching set-up, with Mark Boucher in charge, and Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt and Paul Harris in consulting roles, has revitalised them, with Graeme Smith pulling the strings as CSA acting director of cricket. They are also set to hand Test debuts to Rassie van der Dussen and all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius. With Temba Bavuma missing through injury, it will be up to van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock to shore up the middle order, an ICC report said.
England, meanwhile, have plenty of concerns, with a virus having hit the camp. While Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer have recovered and are likely to play, Chris Woakes has been laid low. Jack Leach, the spinner, who was struck by gastro on the tour of New Zealand, has also been ill in South Africa. More seriously, Ben Stokes' father took seriously ill and was admitted to hospital; while the all-rounder missed practice on Tuesday attending to his father, the board confirmed he was available for training on the eve of the game.
Sam Curran and Jonny Bairstow are the most likely replacements to the XI, should the need arise. The good news for the visitors is that pacer James Anderson is set to play his first Test since limping off in August at the start of the Ashes.
England captain Joe Root said, "We have got extra people here and it's a good squad that enables us to put out a competitive team come what may. It's frustrating but we have to handle it ... I have never encountered a South African team that does not play with pride and passion. And I expect nothing different at Centurion. They are good in their own conditions."
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said, "We are at an infant stage as a Test team, and the plan is to get back to number one, but that will take some time. We do need to mature, we've got a year and a half of the World Test Championship. The plan is get out there and play a little bit better every time we go out."(UNI)