Life yet in “dead rubber” for England
Good teams, according to England coach Trevor Bayliss, are not satisfied with simply winning Test series.
“To get to (be) the best team in the world you have to win series three, four, five-nil,” he said after England clinched a decisive 2-0 lead by winning the third Test against South Africa inside three days.
By that yardstick, nothing less than another win will satisfy the coach in the fourth and final Test starting at SuperSport Park on Friday.
England captain Alastair Cook, too, believes his emerging side need to continue to set high standards. He said after the third Test that England needed always “to look to what we can do better”.
Cook’s involvement in the tour ends after Centurion, with Eoin Morgan taking over for the upcoming one-day and Twenty20 series.
Cook has spoken of pride that England have played consistently well since they arrived in early December, starting with their two warm-up matches. He will not want his tour to finish on a low note.
Motivation is often a problem in so-called “dead rubber” games, however, and England will be up against a South African team badly stung by the way they have surrendered their number one status in Test cricket with successive series defeats by India and England.
Former captain Graeme Smith said the team management needed to share responsibility with the players for the team’s decline, while former player and current selector Ashwell Prince expressed concern about negative signals coming from new captain AB de Villiers.
Fragile batting and injuries to key bowlers have hurt South Africa.
The selectors bowed to their critics when they called up specialist opening batsman Stephen Cook to partner Dean Elgar at the top of the order.
Elgar has been a solid contributor but the average opening partnership for South Africa since the start of the India series has been 20.33, which puts pressure on the rest of the batting.
De Villiers had a harsh introduction to the captaincy in Johannesburg last week and will hope a return to his home ground will bring a change of fortune.
South Africa have a 15-2 win-loss ratio at Centurion and it has been a particularly happy hunting ground for De Villiers, who grew up nearby.
De Villiers made his maiden Test century against England on the ground 11 years ago and in his most recent six innings there has hit three centuries, two nineties and a 48. His average at Centurion is 68.05.
Hashim Amla averages an even more impressive 85.27 at the ground. South Africa will be looking for their two senior batsmen to lay the foundation for a largely inexperienced bowling attack to put some pressure on the English batsmen.
South Africa (from): AB de Villiers (captain), Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Chris Morris, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Morne Morkel, Hardus Viljoen, Rilee Rossouw.
England (likely): Alastair Cook (captain), Alex Hales, Nick Compton, Joe Root, James Taylor, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes or Mark Footitt.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI), Chris Gaffaney (NZL).
TV umpire: Rod Tucker (AUS)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)