Alastair Cook unfazed as AB de Villiers hints at exploiting England 'weaknesses'

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Football News

South Africa captain AB de Villiers lit a fire under the fourth Test in Centurion, suggesting there was a pace problem among England's seamers and fragility in their batting.

Listening to the Proteas skipper's pre-match press conference, it was hard to credit that his was the side nursing an unassailable 2-0 deficit in the series and looking to end a winless run stretching to nine matches.

But De Villiers, as a batsman and now a skipper, is nothing if not an entertainer and his comments ensured there would be no 'dead rubber' feeling about this contest.

England skipper Alastair Cook, responding to suggestions that De Villiers was referring to the country's record wicket-taker when he mentioned diminishing speeds, said: "It's a brave man to call Jimmy Anderson out but it spices it up a little bit, doesn't it?"

De Villiers did not name anybody specifically, but with world number one Stuart Broad demolishing the Proteas with six for 17 in the second innings at Johannesburg and both Steven Finn and Ben Stokes topping 90mph at times, Anderson appeared the likeliest target.

"There's no hiding from the fact England seem to know what they are doing, they understand their roles really well, but there's also no doubt in my mind there are weaknesses there," said De Villiers.

"We have exposed some of them over the last few weeks but not enough.

"Their bowling is experienced but some of the guys have lost some pace over the years, but they are smart and skilled so there are other angles to cover.

"The batting is not 100 per cent best-in-the-world material, there are areas we can expose if we start well with the ball, build up dots. We can find cracks.

"They are not unbeatable, there's no doubt."

Cook sensed a hint of pre-match kidology in his opposite number's words but expects Anderson, England's leading Test wicket-taker, to respond in style to any inferences against him - intentional or otherwise.

"I think he (De Villiers) is obviously trying to wind everything up to make it competitive," said Cook.

"I'm sure if Jimmy reads that he'll have a word to say. Some of his speeds have been pretty good in this series and he hasn't quite had the luck, certainly in the last game."

Hawk-Eye ball-tracking technology, as carried by ESPN Cricinfo, indicates Anderson had the lowest average speeds of all the specialist seamers in the third Test - coming in at 83.35mph across two innings.

That may not be entirely surprising - at 33 he is also the oldest bowler on either side and he has long used his mastery of swing to deceive batsmen rather than brute force.

With 49 wickets at 24.59 since the start of 2015, against a career average of 29.13, he makes for an unlikely fall guy irrespective of the speedgun.

Cook, though, did not take issue with De Villiers' point about England's batting.

The captain himself has scored just 103 runs in six innings, with opening partner Alex Hales managing 120 and James Tayor 148.

They have been bailed out by some stellar showings from Stokes, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, and Cook wants to spread the load as the series draws to a close.

He said: "A lot of runs have been scored by Joe, Ben and Jonny. They've scored the majority of the runs, which is great for those guys but others haven't quite contributed, myself included.

"We've got the opportunity to do that and I'm really looking forward to this week to see how people respond."

England, who are without the injured Finn, will choose between Chris Woakes, Mark Footitt and Chris Jordan on Friday morning.

Woakes, having deputised for Anderson in the series opener at Durban, is favourite and tellingly joined Anderson for a spell in the middle before heading to the nets.

Footitt offers variety as a left-armer and Jordan can comfortably claim to be the best fielder of the three, an attribute highly valued by head coach Trevor Bayliss.

"It is quite a big decision to make. All three are different options and all three desperate for it to be them who gets selected," said Cook.

"When you're weighing up a lot of options you can overcomplicate it, so I think it's just a case of playing our best side."

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