It’s the final Test of what has been an excellent series of Test cricket, as far as the England fans, and even the neutrals are concerned. South Africa won the opener, England hit back with two wins of their own, and ahead of the clash at the Wanderers starting on Friday, January 24, the series is on the line.
However, as far as making an educated guess regarding the destiny of the trophy is concerned, there’s not much to ponder; England are clear favourites. Since the opening Test when South Africa were rescued by Quinton de Kock and England’s own batting failures, the home side have somehow allowed the visitors to become more comfortable with the bat, while their own showings with the willow have been largely poor.
At this point, it’s hard to see where the improvement will come from for a young home side. More damaging for South Africa, however, is the absence of Kagiso Rabada. The paceman has been the single most threatening bowler this tournament, and his absence, due to a suspension after excessive celebration in the previous Test, has only tipped the odds further in England’s favour.
If that wasn’t enough, England are set to welcome back their own pace talisman – Jofra Archer. The Caribbean-born speedster has been looking sharp in the nets since recovering from injury, and is tipped to make the England XI for the final Test. If the troubles surrounding the South African batsmen weren’t bad enough as it is, you can imagine the effect the return of Archer could possibly have.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to suggest in all this that Vernon Philander’s final Test for the Proteas will be a happy one. He has been a willing warrior during his time with the Proteas, and he’ll go down as one of the greatest exponents of the seaming new ball. His finale so far hasn’t gone to plan, but the hope for the home side is that, despite all the odds, the emotional factor can egg them on to giving a legend a worthy sendoff.
Head to head
England’s domination of this rivalry has been bettered over the last two Tests. They have won 63 of their 152 matches in all, with South Africa winning 34 of those clashes.
Vernon Philander (South Africa): It’s the last Test for one of South Africa’s foremost pacemen of the last decade, and while he has shown patches of his old form, he is yet to completely dominate. This Test is his last chance, and what could be a better farewell than a decisive performance in his final match that can potentially lead South Africa to a series-saving win?
Dom Sibley (England): A large reason for England’s batting resurgence this series is their new-look top order, with Dom Sibley leading the way. Along with Zack Crawley and Ollie Pope, Sibley has been a much-needed grafter at the top and has helped build a foundation for a side on which the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes can capitalise. He’s been a find.
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Zubayr Hamza, Anrich Nortje, Faf du Plessis (c), Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Dwayne Pretorius, Dane Paterson
England: Zack Crawley, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Jofra Archer, Dom Bess, Mark Wood
England to seal series 3-1.