August 4-8, 2017
Start time 11.00am local (1000 GMT)
South Africa have fought back once in this series and now they need to do it again to avoid ending their tour of England – which also encompassed a poor Champions Trophy – without any reward. The ODI and T20 series were both lost 2-1 and now the best they can earn from the Tests is a share of the spoils after being comprehensively turned over at The Oval. Throw in the group stage exit from the Champions Trophy and it’s been a difficult couple of months.
They also have a proud record in England to maintain: not since 1998, the series that included the famous tussle between Michael Atherton and Allan Donald plus the deciding Test at Headingley marred by poor umpiring, have they lost a series on these shores. England have already retained the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, but a series win would be a notable first feather in the cap for new captain Joe Root who has experienced a full range of emotions at the start of his reign.
It is difficult to know what to expect. Logic would suggest that England are the favourites, but that was the case before Trent Bridge as well after they had taken the lead at Lord’s. And that quickly came tumbling down around Root. England need to show they can follow a highly impressive performance (and The Oval wasn’t too far off being faultless) with another.
South Africa will be crossing their fingers they can have a first-choice attack on the park. Their win at Trent Bridge came without Kagiso Rabada. Then at The Oval, Vernon Philander started the match ill and got worse. Now on the eve of this match, Philander was suffering from back spasms. If that pair, along with the impressive and sometimes unplayable Morne Morkel, can fire together, taking 20 wickets is well within their grasp
The batting remains a big issue. Dean Elgar’s gusty hundred at The Oval was just South Africa’s second in their last six Tests (Elgar has scored them both) while Quinton de Kock’s move to No. 4 has brought one good score and three failures. A few pieces of England’s batting jigsaw came together at The Oval – Alastair Cook showing the virtues of defence, Ben Stokes’ maturing as Test batsman and Tom Westley’s promising debut – but they need to back it up this week otherwise progress will remain stilted.
(last five matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWLDW
In the spotlight
Keaton Jennings may well have reached a make-or-break Test. His 48 in the second innings at The Oval was unconvincing – dropped in the slips, saved by a review and regularly using his inside edge – and with the wind in his favour he really needed to cash in with a century, but instead edged to gully. With three Tests against West Indies to follow ahead of the Ashes, the selectors will need to decide whether to stick or twist should Jennings not make a significant score at Old Trafford or risk getting to Australia no nearer finding a long-term partner for Cook.
A series tally of 13 wickets at 28.30 looks solid for Morne Morkel but they do not show how well he has bowled. His burst on the third day at The Oval, when he removed Cook with an unplayable delivery from round the wicket, was regarded by some commentators as one of the great spells. Pushing the ball a touch further up to the bat than his natural length has increased his threat and a significant haul feels around the corner. For bowlers to have taken more than 200 Test wickets, only Andrew Flintoff and Jacques Kallis – allrounders – have fewer five-wicket bags than Morkel’s six.
The damp weather in the lead-up to the Test could persuade England to stick with the same balance of side, despite Trevor Bayliss’ view that eight batsmen is too many. That would mean a second cap for Dawid Malan.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Keaton Jennings, 3 Tom Westley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Dawid Malan, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Moeen Ali, 9 Toby Roland-Jones, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson
Philander will have a fitness test on his back and he may not be risked if there is a fear of him breaking down. If he comes through with no issues, South Africa may consider playing the extra batsman at the expense of Chris Morris. However, if Philander continues to experience problems – which may reduce the overs he can bowl – Morris’ bowling will be needed. Heino Kuhn has been backed by coach and captain and so will retain his place.
South Africa (probable) 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Heino Kuhn, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Quinton de Kock (wk), 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Vernon Philander, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Morne Morkel
Pitch and conditions
There has been significant rain in Manchester over recent days and, not for the first time, heat lamps have been used to help dry areas of the outfield. Further heavy rain on Thursday morning left large puddles on the outfield. Alongside the stating of pop concerts – something the ground is used to dealing with – teams means the outfield is unlikely to be ideal. It will be interesting to see how much pace and bounce – qualities Old Trafford is known for – the groundsman can get into the surface.
Stats and trivia
A series defeat for South Africa would be Faf du Plessis’ first as captain (although he did miss the first Test here) following victories over Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
South Africa have not played a Test at Old Trafford since 1998 when they were denied by England’s last-wicket pair of Robert Croft and Angus Fraser
Neither of these sides have won a home series against each other in series which have started this millennium – South Africa’s 2-1 win the 1999-2000 meeting was the last home success.
Joe Root has made at least one half-century in his last nine consecutive Tests – a 10th would equal the England record held by John Edrich.
“There’s been a lot of chat about the outfield and the surface and the weather around, but most importantly all we need to focus on is making sure we look to win this game.”
“We’ll do everything we can to win this last one. England are also an attacking side, so the way they play they put pressure on you as the opposition but they also create opportunity because they can speed the game up a bit. I think this Test match, once again the bat will decide what will happen. Both teams are strong bowling units and the difference is in the batting.”
Faf du Plessis