JOHANNESBURG: Handicapped by the absence of key strike bowler Dale Steyn, South Africa will need to dig deep into their reserves if they are to beat England in the third test and bring parity to the series.
In the rarified atmosphere of Johannesburg, where the altitude of some 1800m above sea level means the ball carries that little bit quicker, the value of a proven wicket taker cannot be underestimated.
But in their hour of need, the world’s second-ranked test bowler has been sidelined from the match which starts on Thursday with a shoulder injury.
To add to their woes, Vernon Philander is also injured and Morne Morkel, who has had to carry a heavy workload in recent months, is in “the red zone” according to his coach Russell Domingo. The multiple setbacks have left South Africa relying on an unproven attack.
The test marks the debut of AB de Villiers as South Africa captain, after Hashim Amla’s sudden resignation last week, but any turmoil that change might have induced is significantly overshadowed by the bowling crisis.
With a result usually unfolding at the Wanderers — only six of the last 24 tests at the venue have been drawn — South Africa are going to have to produce a repeat of the kind of resilience they displayed in Cape Town last week.
With England in blistering form with the bat, the hosts managed to dig themselves out of a deep hole as they forced a draw — thus preventing the visitors from taking a 2-0 lead in the series. In fact, they even rattled England for the first time in the series as they threatened to pull off an unlikely come-from-behind win on the final day.
Despite the closing-stage jitters they displayed in Cape Town, England will fancy their chances with the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn relishing bowling on a better wicket than the flat surfaces of the first two tests.
But for all the focus on the bowlers, the Wanderers has been the scene of many batting triumphs. The tourists showed their capabilities at Newlands last week with Ben Stokes smashing several records as he amassed 258 runs in England’s first innings total of 629 for six declared and he is expected to be a key figure again. The last test of the series will be played at Centurion in Pretoria from Jan. 22-26.