Time for the real South Africa to stand up

Big Picture

As far as Test captaincy debuts go, it’s fair to say Joe Root got off to a flyer. An important toss won, a statement innings provided (with a little luck along the way), and an emphatic victory secured. Things may never seem this easy again.

South Africa will certainly looking to make the challenge a little tougher, now that they have their permanent captain back at the helm. Faf du Plessis is the sort of player who sprinkles hard knocks over his cereals in the morning and will be out to inspire a reaction from his wounded side; South Africa have not lost a Test series in England since readmission and the battle to preserve that record will now intensify.

The wounds are mostly figurative, though Kagiso Rabada has absented himself from the second Test after a salty outburst at Lord’s led to him accumulating a fourth demerit point. South Africa’s problems in defeat were largely of the batting (and catching) variety, however, which has led to JP Duminy being dropped for what may be the final time.

England, meanwhile, have only good options to mull over. Moeen Ali claimed his first Test ten-wicket haul but will happily play the second spinner’s fiddle, while Root will look for more from Mark Wood and Ben Stokes on a ground where both played a key role with the ball when England regained the Ashes in 2015.

Wood knows England have the likes of Chris Woakes and Jake Ball returning to fitness, which will put his place under pressure later in the series. But for now, England have settled quickly under their new captain and it is South Africa who need to summon a response.

Joe Root enjoyed a dream start in his first Test as captain © Getty Images

Form guide


England WLLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LDWDW

In the spotlight


Gary Ballance received words of praise from captain and coach for stubborn innings of 20 and 34 on his latest comeback. The latter was particularly valuable in retrospect, as he and Alastair Cook pushed England into a much stronger position than was immediately apparent on the third evening, before the clatter of wickets the following day. But it will only be hundreds and (to an extent) fifties that determine how long Ballance remains in the team. The fact Morne Morkel dismissed him twice bowling round the wicket at Lord’s ensures he will be tested there again.

He is only one match into his Test career but already Heino Kuhn will be acquainted with the gauntlet of life in South Africa’s top order. Kuhn faced 42 balls for two single-figure scores at Lord’s, undone by a perfect Stuart Broad delivery in the first innings and perhaps a little unlucky to edge James Anderson down the leg side second time out. He came into this series in good form, having made two centuries (including 200 not out) on the South Africa A tour of England, but will want to spend longer in the middle in Nottingham to start feeling comfortable about life as a Test opener.

Team news

Having stuck with the same 12-man squad, England named an unchanged team – meaning Toby Roland-Jones continues to wait for a Test debut. With Moeen Ali now considered a “batsman who bowls a bit” and Liam Dawson in the side as the main spinner, they appear a balanced side.

England 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Keaton Jennings, 3 Gary Ballance, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Liam Dawson, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson

The suspension of Rabada and dropping of Duminy, as well as du Plessis’ return, means South Africa have some rejigging to do. Duanne Olivier has been confirmed as Rabada’s replacement but they still have a decision to make over whether to stick with Theunis de Bruyn or bring in Chris Morris to further strengthen the bowling.

South Africa (probable) 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Heino Kuhn, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Faf du Plessis (capt), 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 Chris Morris, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Duanne Olivier, 11 Morne Morkel

Pitch and conditions


The pitch being used is the same as that for the 2015 Ashes. Yes, Broad’s 8 for 15 and all that. Trent Bridge usually aids swings and seam, which might actually be to South Africa’s liking after a surprise trial by spin at Lord’s. The forecast is generally clear throughout the Test, although temperatures may be on the cooler side.

Stats and trivia


  • South Africa last played a Test at Trent Bridge in 2003, when they lost to a James Kirtley-inspired England.
  • The 1998 match on the ground is best remembered for Allan Donald’s duel with Mike Atherton as England levelled the series.
  • Alastair Cook is 45 runs behind Allan Border in ninth on the Test run-scorer list.
  • Hashim Amla needs just eight more runs to become the third South African to 8000 in Tests.


“I’m still desperate to make an impact with runs and get another win out of the lads. They performed brilliantly last week and it’s important we keep that hunger and really drive forward as a team and keep improving as a side.”
Joe Root – unsurprisingly – wants more of the same at Trent Bridge


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