England can expect to confront a different, though perhaps a more familiar, foe today. The South Africa team that turns up for the third Test, for the first time under AB de Villiers’ captaincy, will be as hard-nosed as their sides have been conventionally, neither asking nor giving a quarter, and will certainly, as De Villiers confirmed, be in England’s faces.
“Yes, I’ve never been the kind to throw a lot of words around or sledge but I like to have good body language and for the team to have good body language and to be in their face in that way,” De Villiers said.
“To really make them feel uncomfortable and to remind them they are away from home and not enjoying the pound and the rand currency too much. Try to make them uncomfortable a little bit. That is how Test cricket should be played and that is the way I will try and lead tomorrow.”
England will be quickly aware of the nature of the contest they are in and if their opponents tended to drift under Hashim Amla’s leadership, De Villiers will not allow that to happen. Not only is he enviably gifted as a cricketer and all-round sportsman but he is ferociously pugnacious.
“I am a very competitive person and I truly hate losing,” he said. “It is a big focus on lots of energy and I like to lead by example. It makes my job a lot easier when you do things that you want the team to follow. Losing is not an option. We are here to win the series and that is all I am focusing on at the moment.”
His counterpart, Alastair Cook, seemed distinctly unmoved by De Villiers’ belated promotion to the captaincy. This was entirely in keeping with the tourists’ declared intention to bother only about themselves, though they would be wise to have contingency plans in place to ensure that De Villiers’ team does not burrow under the skin.
“We’re in a really good position and it’s an exciting time to play on probably two result wickets here and in Centurion,” said Cook. “We have just got to play some good cricket. We have been doing it all tour. We played a good game in [the second Test in] Cape Town and if we had caught our catches we’d have been pushing for victory rather than South Africa at the end of it.”
De Villiers hinted that South Africa might spring a surprise in their team by leaving out the spinner Dane Piedt and introducing for his Test debut the fast bowler Hardus Viljoen, who has been a prolific wicket-taker in the domestic first-class competition.
That would leave England with almost all the experience among the bowling attacks and although Cook said “it doesn’t really matter when the ball is coming down whether the bloke has played two Tests or 100”, it counts for something.
The tourists will be unchanged if, as expected, Alex Hales shakes off his sore throat. He would probably be wheeled out in bed to bat rather than give up his Test place now. England’s bowlers can ensure they clinch a famous series victory.
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