England head to the Wanderers in Johannesburg for the third Test on Thursday aware that victory would give them a famous series win over a team ranked number one in the world.
After the comprehensive victory in Durban where England totally outplayed their hosts, a host of dropped catches handed South Africa a number of lifelines in Cape Town with the likes of Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers making the most of their escapes to find some form and bat their side into a solid position.
Unsurprisingly, given their recent history, England then wobbled with the bat on the final day but to castigate Alistair Cook’s men for their efforts would be wrong as the bowlers toiled manfully on a flat deck after the batsman, in particular Ben Stokes and Johnny Bairstow had put South Africa’s bowlers to the sword.
Cook’s men move to the rarefied air of the Highveld this week where the thinner atmosphere allows the ball to travel further and faster, while the physical endurance of the bowlers will be tested by recent temperatures that have reached 38 degrees in Jo’burg.
England are optimistic that playing at altitude won’t affect them as they spent a successful week at the start of their tour in Potchefstroom which is similarly high above sea level.
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Bethuel Buthenizi, assistant curator at the Wanderers for more than 20 years, believes this week’s pitch will offer assistance for bowlers of all types with a score in the mid 300s perceived to be competitive. The news that Dale Steyn misses out with a shoulder injury will be warmly greeted by England’s batters as he has taken 48 wickets at just 21.68 at the Bullring.
Given that seamers often enjoy the surface in Jo’burg, the South African selectors could look to drop spinner Dane Piedt (Dean Elgar bowls some left-arm spin) in preference for playing four quicks with Kyle Abbott favourite to return after missing out in Cape Town.
However, it could be worth keeping an eye on local hero Hardus Viljoen if he is allowed his chance as he boasts 49 wickets at this week's venue at a better average than Steyn and his two domestic games have yielded an impressive 20 wickets at an average of 14.
Steven Finn was the pick of England’s bowlers in the second Test and will relish the pace and bounce that the Bullring offers so can claim the bowling honours, while Joe Root has looked in good nick all series and could capitalise with the bat.
Deciding which team emerged with the most momentum and credit from Cape Town is harder to quantify as England must surely have gone close if they had accepted any number of opportunities which came their way.
In the hope they aren’t bearing the mental scars of the extended time spent in the field during South Africa’s reply and those fielding frailties were just a blip they are taken to win the Test and in doing so wrap up the series.