South Africa vs England, 1st Test, Centurion: Preview, predictions, likely XIs

South Africa vs England, 1st Test, Centurion: Preview, predictions, likely XIs

Joe Root England

As is norm, South Africa will host their Boxing Day Test at Centurion, this time against England, for the first Test of the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy. Neither team has been in the greatest of forms of late, and will be keen on clawing back into the top three – one that currently includes India, New Zealand, and Australia.

England might have won the World Cup this year, but have not had a good year in whites so far. They had lost 1-2 in West Indies and were pushed by Ireland at home before they won the one-off Test. Then, for the first time in 2001, Australia retained The Ashes on English soil. England also lost 0-1 in New Zealand last month.

To make things worse, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, and Jack Leach all went down with an infection and missed the second tour match that ended on the 22nd.

On the bright side, Joe Root has finally found form with an emphatic double-hundred, Rory Burns and Joe Denly are slowly filling up the void at the top of the batting order. And, of course, there is Ben Stokes, who can do no wrong this year.

South Africa, on the other hand, had received a solid pasting in India in October. Not only were they whitewashed 0-3, they were blown away in every single Test. Before that they had lost to Sri Lanka 0-2 at home, immediately after they wiped Pakistan 3-0.

The South African fast bowlers might not have done well in India, but this is their territory, where they had, as a unit, mown teams down over the years. In Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, and Anrich Nortje they have one of the strongest pace attacks in the world; it is the batting that seems dicey.

This will be a close contest, with South Africa holding a slight edge due to their home advantage.

Head to head

The rivalry dates back to 1888-89, when South Africa had hosted England for the former's first ever Tests. England hold a 61-33 lead (31-19 in South Africa). However, if one considers Tests only since 2000, England's lead reads 12-11 (6-4 in South Africa).

Perhaps a much more telling statistic is the fact that South Africa have not beaten England at home since 1999-00, though they have won on English soil in 2008 and 2012.

Key players

Vernon Philander (South Africa): This will be Philander's farewell series. Since his debut in 2011-12, Philander has been a crucial cog of the South African attack, bowling in tandem with Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, and Rabada at various points. He will want to leave on a high.

James Anderson (England): The leading wicket-taker among all fast bowlers, Anderson has been there, done that too many times to recount. He is returning from an injury, and will have to play a key role if England want to get off the block with a win.

Key players

South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje.

England: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, James Anderson.

Prediction

South Africa to win a very tight match.