The return of Kagiso Rababa means England’s faltering batsmen head into Thursday’s third Test against South Africa at The Oval knowing they will face an even stronger attack than the one that ran through them at Trent Bridge.
Despite the absence of fast bowler Rabada, banned as a result of swearing at England all-rounder Ben Stokes in the series opener at Lord’s, South Africa’s attack bowled them out for just 133 in their second innings.
That sealed a crushing 340-run win in the second Test at the Nottingham ground earlier this month, as they levelled the four-match campaign at 1-1.
England will give a Test debut at number three to Essex batsman Tom Westley in their latest bid to take the pressure off captain Joe Root and former skipper Alastair Cook, a county colleague of the newcomer, at the top of their order.
The weakest link of a South Africa attack led by Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel at Trent Bridge was Duanne Olivier, but he will now give way to Rabada.
At the age of 22, Rabada has already taken 77 wickets in 18 Tests at an average of under 25.
– ‘Raring to go’ –
Proteas bowling coach Charl Langeveldt said Rabada would be “raring to go”.
Meanwhile star batsman Hashim Amla added: “KG is a wonderful bowler.
“I’m sure he doesn’t want to get banned again… The way he does it is entirely up to him.”
Westley has been brought in after England number three Gary Ballance was ruled out with a finger injury, although the Yorkshire batsman’s lack of runs might well have seen him dropped.
Westley has been in good form for Essex so far this season, scoring 478 First Division runs in the County Championship, including two centuries, at an average of 53.11.
Significantly, he also made 106 not out against a strong South Africa attack for the second-string England Lions at Worcester last month.
Now he hopes to join “unbelievable role model Cook”, in an England fightback in what will be the 100th Test staged at The Oval.
“We’ve had quite a few good partnerships with Essex, so hopefully we can do the same for England,” said Westley.
“I appreciate everything in Test cricket is going to be another step up in intensity, but I can take confidence from having faced the majority of their bowlers a few weeks ago and scored some runs.”
England fans will hope Westley can add steel to a top order that appeared to lack either the ability or the inclination to bat for a draw when all hopes of a win had evaporated at Trent Bridge.
Stokes said such criticism, led by former England captain Michael Vaughan, was “harsh”, telling the Cricinfo website: “The whole fight and desire (question) that’s been thrown at us I think is very, very unfair.”
Someone who knows all about building an innings is Amla.
It was at The Oval in 2012 where Amla made South Africa’s record individual Test score of 311 not out.
“Test cricket has an element of grind in it,” said Amla, who batted for more than 13 hours five years ago at The Oval and is renowned for his patience at the crease.
“You can’t be attacking all the time and you can’t grind all the time: it’s finding the right balance.”
He added: “You could have made the same criticism of us after Lord’s (where South Africa lost by 211 runs). You go through ups and downs as a batting unit.”
South Africa were strengthened at Trent Bridge by the return of astute captain Faf du Plessis, who has lost just one of his 12 Tests as skipper.
This match sees coach Russell Domingo back with the squad following the death of his mother.
One consolation for England is that, recently, they have rarely suffered heavy defeats in successive home Tests.
They will hope that remains the case, with fast bowler Mark Wood looking to prove his fitness and return to form after heel problems at Trent Bridge.