Stage set for England-South Africa series-decider
England and South Africa go into Thursday's final Test at The Oval without key batsmen as each looks to secure a series that is intriguingly poised at 1-1 after emphatic victories by both sides.
South Africa won the first Test at Lord's by an innings and 12 runs, before England, led by the captain marvel Ben Stokes, thrashed the tourists by an innings and 85 runs at Old Trafford.
The dust has settled on that encounter and in the interim both teams have lost an important member of their middle order, with England's Jonny Bairstow having suffered a freak leg injury playing golf and South Africa's Rassie van der Dussen nursing a fractured finger.
Both seam attacks are world class, and for the third test running it is likely that the bat – and who can get first innings runs – will decide the outcome.
Ben Duckett has been brought into the squad by England to replace Bairstow, but with Harry Brook already there, the latter could well be handed his test debut, especially after he scored 140 off 170 balls for England Lions against the tourists ahead of the series.
Brook might already have been under consideration to replace misfiring opener Alex Lees.
"I feel like I'd do a job batting anywhere to be honest," Brook told reporters. "But I do like batting five. If you spoke to other people about batting (there) they would probably say, 'I don't like it because I like to get out there straightaway'.
"But I like coming in (from the field) and chilling a bit."
England are likely to stick with the same bowling attack that was so dangerous at Old Trafford, especially with the relatively lengthy 11 days between tests that has allowed the seamers to put their feet up.
South Africa must find a replacement for Van der Dussen, whose injury has likely won out-of-form Aiden Markram a reprieve. It looks a straight choice between Ryan Rickelton and Khaya Zondo, both of who are inexperienced at test level.
"Obviously we have to replace Rassie, so that's a definite change," captain Dean Elgar said.
"But whether that's the only change, we'll have to see. The bottom line is that we need runs from the middle-order and they have let us down quite a bit. The guys know it already."
The other question for the visitors is whether to retain two spinners, or revert back to the four-pronged seam attack that served them so well at Lord's.
South Africa's only win in 15 matches at The Oval was in 2012, when they claimed victory by an innings and 12 runs – the same margin as the first Test of this series.