Starting with the West Indies tour in early April, they have played 13 Tests across 2015 earning mixed results, but picking up rave reviews for their fearless style of cricket.
It will be difficult to continue that aggressive manner in what will likely be England’s toughest tour of the year. South Africa are the world’s number one Test side and have been close to unbeatable in their own backyard for the past decade.
However, it may be a good time to take on the Proteas. They’ve just been soundly beaten 3-0 away in India and injuries to Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn has left their seam attack short of their two most incisive bowlers. The attack will instead be led by Morne Morkel – still a frightening prospect when in form.
This England squad only has three members remaining from their last tour here six years ago. The experienced trio of Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Stuart Broad will be expected to shoulder much of the burden as usual. But the hallmark of this new England side is their new T20 generation of Test players. And who would have foreseen Alex Hales, Nick Compton, James Taylor, Jonny Bairstow and Mark Footitt as probable starters?
With Ben Stokes claiming he is back to full fitness, and who are we to disagree after he smashed his way to 158 in the opening tour match, there appears to only be one spot left up for grabs in the final XI. Anderson and Broad will obviously be taking the new ball and two spinners are certainly not a requirement in South Africa, which leaves the third seamers role available. It appears to be a straight shootout between Chris Woakes and Footitt. Woakes would represent a steady option and England know what he would give them – control, stamina and a willingness to put in the hard yards. Footitt is a more adventurous choice; with his left arm angle and extra yard of pace.
The now Surrey seamer has been a consistent wicket taker for Derbyshire over the past three seasons and his selection would be a fillip to all those making waves in county cricket. Compton is another who has benefitted from solid county form. Having not played in an England shirt for over two years, he looks set to take over from Ian Bell at number three and will likely have the four Tests to cement his place ahead of next summer.
Steven Finn has also been drafted into the squad after two promising performances for the England Lions in the UAE. The Middlesex seamer was initially ruled out from touring as he was set to miss the first Test, but he has proved his fitness to Trevor Bayliss’ liking. Although unlikely to feature in the opening match, Finn could be a key man for England as the series develops.
As mentioned, the South Africans are shorn of their two lead seamers, but they still pose a fearsome threat. While Steyn is not a definite absentee it looks likely that he will miss out to begin with, and in his place South Africa will probably line up with Morkel alongside Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott. Their batting faltered in India after being bogged down by spin, but in familiar conditions Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers and JP Duminy are all capable of making match winning contributions.
England Test fans have been spoilt this year with an Ashes series, a sub-continent tour and an always-welcome trip to the Caribbean. Who can forget the brief New Zealand series too? But this tour could well be the highlight of a busy year, as England’s young new charges take on the best in their own backyard. Fingers will also be crossed hoping that the pitches in this series can provide some exhilarating cricket after the slow, low decks in the UAE last month.
The First Test begins at Durban on Boxing Day and this series should be the perfect way to get through the mountains of turkey, and small talk with distant family members this Christmas.