Mounting South African issues hand England hope for Test series

When England announced their squad to tour South Africa over Christmas there were more than a few questions raised over their thinking.

Adil Rashid was no longer worthy of a squad spot, nor was Liam Plunkett. Cast aside batsmen Nick Compton and Gary Ballance were both handed recalls and Samit Patel was picked to deputise for Moeen Ali.

If those moves caused some to question England’s chances, then the South African squad recently announced for the first two Tests of the series puts the visitors back in with a chance.

The Proteas, fresh from a 3-0 Test series shellacking in India, have dropped a host of names that featured in the subcontinent and have injury concerns over a number of key bowlers as well.

Of the three spinners taken to face Virat Kohli’s side, Dane Piedt is the only player to retain his place, with Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer axed.

Elsewhere, gloveman Dane Vilas, who averaged 8.57 in the four games against the Indians, is understandably ousted. However, that decision places additional pressure on the both the fitness and form of AB de Villiers.

The South African selectors have handed wicketkeeping duties back to the middle-order batsman, who has flitted in and out of the role due to a niggling back problem.

Speaking of injuries, Vernon Philander will miss the opening two Tests with torn ankle ligaments and Dale Steyn requires a fitness test on a groin strain before taking part in the series.

Chastening runs of form for key batting pair Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, who averaged 16.85 and 8.57 in India respectively, are encouraging for English bowlers, while the top of the card is as uncertain, if not more, than England’s.

Of course a return to familiar surroundings could render all these negatives pointless come Boxing Day and the start of the first Test, but at a price of 3/1 to take the series, England are surely worth investing in as lively outsiders.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.