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South Africa, England seek return to success

South Africa and England meet at Kingsmead from Saturday in the first of four Tests between two evenly-match teams, both seeking a return to winning ways.

South Africa were trounced 3-0 by India recently in their biggest setback since becoming the top-ranked Test team in 2012, while England were beaten 2-0 by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in their most recent series.

Both teams will relish a return to more familiar conditions after struggling on slow, spin-friendly pitches during their defeats. The absence of leading bowler James Anderson because of a calf strain is a major blow to England at a ground where swing bowlers often prosper, while the return to action after injury of Dale Steyn is a boost for South Africa. But England have reason for confidence after showing outstanding form in two warm-up games, while South Africa’s batsmen, most of whom failed in India, were unable to rediscover their best form while playing in four-day domestic matches, with only Temba Bavuma making a half-century.

AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis opted to rest ahead of the Tests. “We want to start well. After our performance in India which didn’t go too well that will be important,” said South Africa captain Hashim Amla. “No matter whom we come across on the day it’s important for us to start well. For us it’s not about who is leading the attack for England, it doesn’t make a difference to us. We are faced with our own challenges and it’s something that everybody in the team is looking forward to.” England will be encouraged by their record at Kingsmead, where South Africa have their poorest record at a home venue, with nine wins and six defeats in 21 matches since returning to Test cricket in 1992.

England have not been beaten at the ground during this period, drawing three Tests and winning the 2009/10 encounter by an innings. Both teams rely primarily on their fast bowlers and both have question marks against their opening batting combinations.

While England captain Alastair Cook has been a heavy run-scorer in recent times, he has had a succession of opening partners who have been tried and found wanting. Alex Hales, who will win his first cap on Saturday, is the latest to try to win a long-term place. 

South Africa have on occasions opted for an all-seam attack at Kingsmead but Amla said he was reluctant to go in without a spinner, which is likely to mean that steady off-spinner Dane Piedt will win his third cap. 

England skipper Cook says Woakes ready to impress
England captain Alastair Cook has backed all-rounder Chris Woakes to shine when the first Test against South Africa starts here on Boxing Day. Cook confirmed on Friday that Woakes would win a fifth Test cap after pacer James Anderson was ruled out with a calf problem. Anderson will miss the first Test, but it is hoped that England's leading Test wicket-taker will be fit for the second match in Cape Town. Woakes' pace and control were impressive during the limited overs campaign in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
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