The Jos Buttler-Vernon Philander on-field spat at Newlands spiced up an otherwise uneventful series, which is now evenly poised at 1-1 with two more Tests to come. Another win for England will see them retain the Basil d’Oliveira trophy, while the Proteas will be hungry to get the trophy back in their grasp for the first time in three attempts.
St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth was the venue where South Africa played Test cricket for the first time – against England – way back in 1889 and it took them 65 years more to win a Test at the venue. Most recently, they were handed a thrashing at the hands of Sri Lanka at this venue, which was their first loss here since losing the Boxing Day Test to West Indies in 2007.
The surface at Port Elizabeth is tipped to be the slowest in the country, which could bring spinners into play for longer periods. However, there is enough assistance for the fast bowlers as well and considering the quality of pacers both teams have at their disposal, it would be naïve to change the combination going into this match.
In Tests since 2016, St George’s Park is among the most spin-friendly venues in South Africa.
History is on South Africa’s side as England have not won a Test at the venue since 2004 – a series which the visitors won 2-1.
For England, their skipper Joe Root missed a training session due to a stomach bug, which has already kept some of his fast bowlers out for the opening two Tests. England will perhaps take a call closer to the toss. However, if he is unavailable, we could see Jonny Bairstow given another go with Stokes elevated to captaincy duties.
Their leading wicket-taker James Anderson has been ruled out for the rest of the series due to a rib injury, which could be an opening for someone like Mark Wood, who has recovered from ankle surgery. He bowled in full swing at nets and looked even more menacing than Jofra Archer who is still recovering from an elbow injury. As a result, Wood is most likely to make the playing XI
There is good news for England as Chris Woakes has recovered from his illness and could be drafted straight into the XI. Unfortunately, Jack Leach has not recovered in time and has a result has flown home to regain fitness.
Likely XI: Zak Crawley, Dominic Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root/Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran/Chris Woakes, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood
As far as the Proteas are concerned, they do not have any injury concerns, but they have released Temba Bavuma, Beuran Hendricks, Keegan Petersen, Andile Phehlukwayo and Rudi Second ahead of the third Test to play franchise cricket. Among the players who did not feature in the two Tests so far, only Dane Peterson has stayed back with the squad and if South Africa go in for an all-pace attack, he could be handed a Test debut.
The pressure will be on skipper Faf du Plessis, who has not had the best of times with the bat of late. He has failed to score 30 in his last seven innings and with the series in the balance, the pressure will be on him to contribute. With Dean Elgar, Rassie Van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock being in good form, a couple of vital contributions from the skipper will not just lift the team but could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Du Plessis has an excellent record at this venue having scored 509 runs at 72.71, which include two hundreds and three fifties.
Likely XI: Dean Elgar, Pieter Malan, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis (c), Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (wk), Dwaine Pretorius, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj/Dane Paterson, Anrich Nortje
The weather is expected to be cloudy for the first two days, while showers are expected for the remaining days. However, the forecast does not seem to be particularly bad during match time.