By Neil Leverett
- South Africa play England in the fourth and final Test at The Wanderers in Johannesburg, beginning on Friday morning
- Tourists take 2-1 series lead to capital after dominating last two games; will seal tour victory with draw
- Proteas could name as many as four changes to XI, after Port Elizabeth thumping
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – As England roll into Johannesburg for the fourth Test with a 2-1 series lead over South Africa, can the tourists seal a series victory at The Wanderers?
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Tourists on verge of series win
As England travel north to Johannesburg, Friday begins England’s attempts to take the final step of sealing a series win against South Africa, as the tourists lead 2-1 as they roll into The Wanderers.
Having flipped the favours of English cricket on its’ head since the turn of the year, back-to-back Test dominance has put Joe Root‘s men in the box seat to seal a first away series victory since 2018’s 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka.
With a return to the subcontinent on the horizon in March, first the job at hand in the provincial capital lays ahead and with momentum of an innings victory on their side, the tourists will fancy their chances of at the very least of claiming the draw needed, if not completing an emphatic 3-1 scoreline with a third successive victory.
With England still basking in victory from St. George’s Park, minds quickly switched to the fatigue factor amongst the tourists’ ranks, in particular the ground-to-the-bone Mark Wood. However, on the eve of the final Test it appears that not only the Durham paceman, but Jofra Archer could be unleashed on the already reeling South Africans.
That would be a particular unnerving scenario for a Proteas side still licking their wounds having been taken apart in P.E. The consensus at the conclusion of events on Monday were that a physically exhausted Wood – having only played once on tour this winter – would likely to rested in favour of Archer, but after the Northumbrian recovered well this past week, a full on pace attack could be in evidence in Jo’burg.
Indeed, it could be Archer himself most at risk of missing out again, with the Antiguan-born quickie set for another late fitness test. Should he not make it, concerns will perhaps be not as seismic as in previous years, with the meteoric rise of spinner Dom Bess to fall back on for wickets – even Root, who took four wickets in the second innings last time out.
Then of course there is the inimitable Ben Stokes who was for once largely out of the limelight at St. George’s Park after his fireworks of Newlands, but having been managed during the third Test is in a position to make his impact felt once more here.
‘Sky’s the limit’ for England
With the burden of an existing series loss in New Zealand already this winter, the past two Tests have afforded skipper Root and Coach Chris Silverwood the luxury of being able to bask in victory.
Despite a dramatic rise in fortunes away from home however – led by Surrey’s Ollie Pope with the bat – Root feels there is still much to work to be done within the group but as he states to The Guardian, the Yorkshireman believes this new era for English cricket is capable of bringing great things with it.
“We’ve had injuries with senior players having to fly home and a lot of illness to deal with. We have adapted to very different conditions and for a very young group of players to manage that has been very pleasing and a sign we’re doing the right things.
“If we can harness that and keep taking that forward and look to improve as a group then I do think the sky’s the limit for this team. But I do think we’re very much at the start of something and we’re not perfect by any means. We have to keep that attitude and keep driving that forward for a long period if we want to get to No 1 in the world.”
Proteas set to ring changes
The hosts meanwhile, having taken perhaps a maximum of two single sessions during the entirety of the last Test are set to take on a very different visage. With the news Quinton de Kock will take over the captaincy reins for the ODI series beginning next month, the Proteas could make as many as four changes at The Wanderers.
With Kagiso Rabada banned for an accumulation of demerit points following his excessive wicket celebrations in Port Elizabeth, Andile Phehlukwayo is set to deputise although Beuran Hendricks could be another option for Faf du Plessis on potentially his final outing as captain.
Temba Bavuma and Keegan Petersen make up four players to be recalled to the Test side, with the latter tipped to take the place of Zabayr Hamza in the middle to top order.
Despite being almost comprehensively outplayed during the last ten days of the series, the chance remains for the hosts to salvage a draw, but without their gun bowler in Rabada – who often plays his best cricket at The Wanderers – that, coupled with the juggernaut of momentum England carry will be no mean feat.
The fourth Test between South Africa and England begins on Friday morning at The Wanderers, Johannesburg.
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