England seek answers on South Africa tour

England’s cricketers arrive in Johannesburg Friday, with just over two weeks to prepare for a four-Test series against South Africa. Two three-day warm-up games will help the tourists decide on the make-up of their best eleven for a series in which both teams will seek to return to winning ways. The first Test starts in Durban on December 26.

England will have two three-day warm-up matches against South African Invitation teams, in Potchefstroom from next Tuesday and in Pietermaritzburg from December 20.   -  REUTERS

England’s cricketers arrive in Johannesburg Friday, with just over two weeks to prepare for a four-Test series against South Africa.

Two three-day warm-up games will help the tourists decide on the make-up of their best eleven for a series in which both teams will seek to return to winning ways. The first Test starts in Durban on December 26.

England will have two three-day warm-up matches against South African Invitation teams, in Potchefstroom from next Tuesday and in Pietermaritzburg from December 20.

One of the key questions for the tour selectors will be to decide on an opening partner for captain Alastair Cook.

Moeen Ali opened with Cook in a losing series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates recently but is expected to bat lower in the order against South Africa.

Other opening batsmen in the tour party are South Africa-born Nick Compton, who made two centuries in nine Tests before being discarded after a series against New Zealand in May 2013, and Alex Hales, whose only England appearances so far have been in limited overs’ games.

With long-serving Ian Bell having been dropped after the Pakistan series, the number three position also needs to be filled, with Gary Ballance seeking a recall after being dropped during England’s victorious Ashes series against Australia this year.

Other decisions include whether Jos Buttler or Jonny Bairstow should keep wicket and the composition of a bowling attack in which James Anderson, Stuart Broad and all-rounder Ben Stokes are the only established players.

South Africa had their lead on the International Cricket Council’s rankings cut to just four points when they were mauled 3-0 in a four-Test series in India which ended on Monday, while England languish in fifth place after being beaten 2-0 by Pakistan in a three-match series in October and November.

For South Africa AB de Villiers will keep wicket in the first two Tests. He was named on Thursday as the only wicketkeeper in a 13-man squad for the matches starting in Durban on December 26 and Cape Town on January 2.

Fast bowler Dale Steyn was named in the squad after missing the final three Tests against India recently because of a groin injury. Fellow fast bowler Vernon Philander is not in the squad after suffering an ankle injury in India.

Off-spinner Dane Piedt was the only slow bowler named in the squad, with leg-spinner Imran Tahir and off-spinner Simon Harmer dropped after India beat the world champions 3-0 in India.

Also dropped was wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, who will captain South Africa A in the three-day match in Pietermaritzburg from December 20.

Test squads

England: Alastair Cook (captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wkt), Nick Compton, Mark Footitt, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, Joe Root (vice-captain), Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Chris Woakes.

South Africa : Hashim Amla (captain), AB de Villiers (vice-captain, wkt), Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl .