Preview: Can injury-ravaged South Africa surprise new look England?

Sune Luus will lead South Africa for the first time in Tests against England. © Getty Images

South Africa return to Test cricket after a gap of eight years, whereas England will play in the format for the second time this year after the Ashes when they meet in Taunton on Monday.

What’s at stake?

Much of the lead up to the Test has been dominated by off field news. England will field almost a completely green seam bowling attack with both Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole announcing their retirements from Test and international cricket respectively.

South Africa themselves will be missing quite a few big names. Dane van Niekerk was not included in the original squad as she’s not back to full fitness yet but they will also miss the services of Ayabonga Khaka (not considered for selection), Shabnim Ismail (calf strain) and Chloe Tryon (hip niggle). Mignon du Preez, who captained them in the last Test they played, has also retired from the format earlier this year.

While a slew of big names might be missing, there will be plenty of youngsters and up and coming players who will look to make a mark in this match. A good performance here might help the youngsters to get a look in for the shorter formats as well that will follow the Test.

Tryon was one of the only four players in the squad to have played a Test previously; the other three being Lizelle Lee, Marizanne Kapp and Trisha Chetty.

The lead up has also seen the players criticise the comments of ICC Chairman Greg Barclay, who said that he doesn’t “really see Tests as part of the landscape moving forward to any real extent”.

The England players have come down heavily on those comments, with captain Heather Knight saying that the comments send out a dangerous message. England’s coach Lisa Keightley said, “Realistically I don’t think every country can play this format, I get that, but I do think we should stretch and challenge and have the desire to improve women’s cricket and to grow it. There are a few countries that are putting their hand up to play Test match cricket for that purpose. The players really want to play it and the organisations are getting in and around it and behind it.”

The last Tests in women’s cricket ended in draws but drew plenty of eyeballs and served up lots of entertainment. A similar display here might force the stakeholders to play more Tests in the future.

Players to watch out for:

Heather Knight

Test cricket has generally gotten the best out of the England captain and it is a format that suits her style of play to the tee while also rewarding her technical excellence and vast reserves of concentration and stamina.

She played one of the all-time great innings in the Ashes Test in Canberra earlier this year and would want to carry on the same against a significantly weakened South African attack that is missing three of its best bowlers.

If Knight manages to stay at the crease for more than an hour, expect her to go big and send South Africa on a leather hunt.

Laura Wolvaardt

Arguably the world’s most consistent batter in the two shorter formats, Laura Wolvaardt is yet to make her Test debut. Even though it might seem like she has been around for forever, she was only a schoolgirl when South Africa last played a Test.

A player who has almost never been out of form in the last couple of years, Wolvaardt enters the Test in brilliant form yet again, having scored a century in the warm up match. She will open the batting for South Africa and if they are to put up a big total on the board, Wolvaardt will hold they key yet again, with Lizelle Lee and Marizanne Kapp likely to bat in the middle order.

What they said:

“I just love batting and I love the chance to just keep batting. Often in ODI or T20 cricket obviously you’re looking to get on with it and take a few more risks. In a Test match, I feel like it’s really about making those big hundreds, those big scores that are going to try and influence and help the team win matches.”

Heather Knight loves scoring big hundreds

“The application we see from batters shows that the improvement is there. Getting into the Test, we can say that most of our batters have spent time in the middle to be able to understand what’s required.”

– South Africa’s coach Hilton Moreeng is happy with how the batters fared in the warm ups

Numbers:

* Heather Knight is the only player from the two squads who has scored more than 500 runs in Test cricket. She’s currently on 697.

* Trisha Chetty is the only member of the South African squad to have played more than one Test. She was the second-highest scorer for the team in their last Test in 2014.

Predicted XI:

The pacy Izzy Wong replaced Emily Arlott in the squad after she failed to recover sufficiently from the aftereffects of Covid. Vice-captain Natalie Sciver confirmed in the pre-match presser that Emma Lamb will make her Test debut and partner Tammy Beaumont at the top of the order.

With the three big names ruled out, South Africa only have a squad of 12 to choose their playing XI from.

England: Emma Lamb, Tammy Beaumont, Heather Knight (c), Natalie Sciver, Sophia Dunkley, Amy Jones (wk), Charlie Dean, Sophie Ecclestone, Kate Cross, Alice Davidson-Richards, Freya Davies

South Africa: Andrie Steyn, Laura Wolvaardt, Lara Goodall, Sune Luus (c), Lizelle Lee, Marizanne Kapp, Trisha Chetty (wk), Nadine de Klerk, Tumi Sekhukhune, Anneke Bosch, Nonkululeko Mlaba