The upcoming England tour of South Africa is almost upon us, with Alastair Cook's men facing the Proteas in four test matches starting on Boxing Day.
It will no doubt be the toughest series for this young England side since the disastrous whitewash in Australia in 2013/14. However, many pundits feel that Cook's men have a very good chance of winning away, which they haven't done since the terrific 2-1 defeat of India at the end of 2012. Michael Vaughan even thinks that Hashim Amla's men are 'more vulnerable than they've been for years', via the Telegraph.
South Africa have problems but are still a force
South Africa can certainly claim to have their problems, having just been demolished 3-0 in India with a highest batting total of 214. Going forward, the Proteas are missing the dangerous Vernon Philander due to injury, whilst Dale Steyn, undoubtedly the world's best pace bowler, is a doubt for the first test.
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Moreover, with the recent retirements of batting legends Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, the coaching staff have been forced to introduce Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl into the top three of the order, and whilst not exactly flopping, they haven't done enough to make their places secure.
Still, anyone who thinks the South Africans will be easy fodder for England should be careful. Possessing a captain who scores runs for fun, Hashim Amla, and arguably the world's finest current batsman AB De Villiers, James Anderson and company will need to be at the top of their game.
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In Faf du Plessis, the one-day specialist, the team has the luxury of a batsman who can win a test match in a session. On the bowling front, the coaching staff have unearthed a genuinely fast 20-year-old, Kagiso Rabada, who took a hat-trick on his ODI debut.
Can England sort out their batting order?
England, meanwhile, have their own problems, not least the seemingly never-ending dilemma of who should open with Cook. Since Michael Carberry was unfairly discarded after the disaster Down Under two years ago, no less than four players have been tried out, the latest being the part-time off-spinner Moeen Ali.
This time, it seems likely that Nottinghamshire's Alex Hales will stride out to the crease with Cook in Durban. Hales undoubtedly deserves his chance, but having struggled recently in the ODI series with Pakistan, he will have to deal with all kinds of pressure facing the new ball from the likes of Steyn, Morne Morkel and Rabada.
Despite the fact that England lost their recent series in Pakistan 2-0, there were many positives that came out of the tour that hinted of better times ahead. The consistent form of Cook and Joe Root, coupled with the relentless energy of Anderson and Stuart Broad is a major plus for Trevor Bayliss's men.
Yet if England are to win against the current number one ranked test side, they need other members of the squad to step up. Win or draw the first test, and South Africa can be vulnerable. Lose it, and it will be an uphill struggle. One thing is for certain - it should be enthralling test cricket.
How do you think England will cope in South Africa? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!
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