The uncapped Darren Gough has been preferred to both McCague and Paul Taylor as Mark Ilott's partner in a two-man seam attack. They will be supplemented by Adrian Dale, who has been given the all-rounder's position in the absence of Dominic Cork.
The latter's weekend departure - because of family illness - also means a reprieve for Mark Lathwell, who will open the batting despite making 128 runs in his last 10 innings. England, wary of a batting order that has Gough at No 8, have chosen six batsmen with John Crawley reverting to No 3.
McCague - whose 15 first-class tour wickets at 29 apiece have been marginally more expensive than Gough's 16 - has been omitted because of the condition of the wicket according to the team's manager, Phil Neale. 'His position as a possible replacement for the West Indies is not jeopardised by not playing in this game,' Neale said. 'He has proved he can last a full match already.'
Even by South African standards the St George's square, on which McCague took 3 for 106 earlier in the tour, is lifeless. Rudi Bryson last year became the latest seamer to leave Eastern Province because of it and there are constant rumours that their Test left-armer, Brett Schultz, will follow.
'We are using the same strip as we did last month and it is not the sort of wicket you can blast people out on,' Neale added. 'It is hard to see McCague getting anything from it. Gough bowls a longer length, skids off the wicket and can swing the old ball. I have played against him on this type of wicket and he can be a handful.'
In some respects the argument is irrelevant as the key bowlers are the spinners, Peter Such and Robert Croft, who are both destined for long spells of bowling with England hoping to bat first and build a substantial total.
'We have been unbalanced by Cork going home and whichever way we went would have weakened one area. In the end we opted to compromise on the bowling,' Neale said.
If England have been forced to adopt a negative approach, South Africa are unlikely to be allowed to by their coach, Eddie Barlow, a keen advocate of positive cricket. Earlier this year he took his Transvaal side on an 'adventure' weekend in the South African bush in which they scrambled through the savannah and competed at activities such as rifle shooting in a 'bonding exercise'.
Round the campfire each night Barlow attempted to instil a positive approach based on the dictum 'klap the ball'. With the side captained by Transvaal's Jimmy Cook, on his latest recall, his theme will have a highly motivated conductor on the field.
ENGLAND A (v South Africa A, Port Elizabeth, today): H Morris (capt), M N Lathwell, J P Crawley, A P Wells, M B Loye, A Dale, S J Rhodes (wkt), R D B Croft, D Gough, M C Ilott, P M Such.
SOUTH AFRICA A (from): S J Cook (capt), J M Arthur, G F J Liebenberg, P J R Steyn, L J Wilkinson, A P Kuiper, E O Simons, D N Crookes, S J Palframan, C E Eksteen, M W Pringle, A Martyn.Reuse content