Test series preview: South Africa v England

England

South Africa and England go into their four-match Test series with people genuinely not knowing who the favourites are to take the Basil D'Oliveira trophy, the series kicking off at Kingsmead in Durban on Boxing Day.

The Proteas come off humiliating Test series defeat in India, where they were completely outplayed to lose three-nil in the four-match.

The home team's batsmen have come under huge scrutiny with everyone in the top six, bar AB de Villiers, being completely out of form.

There are also question marks about Stiaan van Zyl, who is not a regular opener, opening the batting against an experienced England new-ball attack.

Fast bowler Dale Steyn, who is the premier paceman in the world, has not played any cricket since early November, when he limped out of the first Test against India with a groin injury, but is fit to take his place in the Proteas starting team.

The tourists themselves come off a two-nil Test series defeat against Pakistan in the UAE, with Alastair Cook's men also shown up on the slow pitches in Asia.

The conditions in South Africa are more like home though, and, with a well-balanced bowling attack, the visitors will be confident of topping the top Test nation in the world in their own backyard.

Pace spearhead James Anderson will miss the first Test though as he pulled up with a calf injury in training.

Skipper Cook and Joe Root will have to score to the bulk of the runs for the Three Lions as, without Ian Bell, the rest of the top-order lacks the necessary experience.

Key players

Although AB de Villers is in good form and is a prized wicket for the opposition, the Proteas need their captain Hashim Amla to come to the party. If Amla is in form it puts the rest of the order at ease and allows others to play freely.

Root is the key to the England middle-order. Cook brings stability at the top but Root has been the Three Lions' go-to batter over the last two years.

Last Five Head-To-Head Results

2012 third Test: South Africa won by 51 runs at Lord's
2012 second Test: Draw at Headingley
2012 first Test: South won by an innings and 12 runs at The Oval
2010 fourth Test: South Africa won by an innings and 74 runs in Johannesburg
2010 third Test: Draw at Newlands

Squads

South Africa squad: Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers (wk), Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl

England squad: Alastair Cook (capt), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Nick Compton, Mark Footitt, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Chris Woakes

Fixtures

First Test: 26 – 30 December in Durban
Second Test: 02 – 06 January at Newlands
Third Test: 14 – 18 January in Johannesburg
Fourth Test: 22 – 26 January in Centurion

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