James Anderson and Jonny Bairstow are set to return to England’s Test squad on Saturday when the tour party to travel to South Africa is announced.
Joe Root’s side need only wait until Boxing Day for a four-match series against the Proteas to get under way, providing a swift chance to banish memories of the underwhelming 1-0 series defeat in New Zealand.
Anderson, Bairstow and fast bowler Mark Wood are already in South Africa as part of an ECB fast-bowling camp in Potchefstroom.
Anderson and Bairstow are set to return to the Test squad after sitting out the series against the Black Caps, with Wood set to join them if he can prove his fitness.
The 37-year-old Anderson has been recovering from a calf injury which kept him out of most this summer’s Ashes, while Wood is also returning to fitness having suffered knee and side injuries in the wake of his efforts in England’s World Cup win.
Both have been working with coaches Glen Chapple and Neil Killeen in a bid to hit the ground running when the tour starts with a warm-up match against a South Africa Invitational XI on December 17.
Wood, whose last match was the World Cup final on July 14, will need to prove his injury problems are under control having not played red-ball cricket since a man-of-the-match performance in the third Test against West Indies back in February.
Bairstow was axed for the New Zealand series after averaging 23.77 during this summer’s Ashes – a move that backfired when newcomer Ollie Pope had to deputise behind the stumps for the second Test in Hamilton after Jos Buttler sustained an injury.
However, Bairstow has been working with Jonathan Trott in Potchefstroom with a view to returning to what will be either a 16 or 17-man squad.
Several of the newcomers who gained their first Test tour experience in New Zealand are set to make way, with unused Lancashire bowlers Saqib Mahmood and Matt Parkinson unlikely to feature.
Kent batsman Zak Crawley, who made a single run in his only Test innings in Hamilton, is set to make way for Bairstow, who will also provide a more experienced back-up option to Buttler with the gloves.
That leaves another familiar face in Moeen Ali sweating on his place.
Jack Leach is set to continue as England’s front-line spinner, with Moeen’s superior batting giving him the edge over Parkinson should a second spin option be deemed necessary.
Moeen, who has not featured for England since the first Ashes Test, has been playing T10 cricket in Abu Dhabi since the domestic season finished and on Friday was picked up as a first-round pick by Andy Flower’s Multan Sultans for the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League.
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