The Kennington Oval celebrates hosting its 100th Test match on Thursday as England and South Africa clash with the series poised at one-all. Both sides are searching for consistency following contrasting performances in the first two Tests – England dominated at Lord’s while South Africa comprehensively won at Trent Bridge.
England began the summer with question marks over the batting lineup, but if anything there’s even less certainty now with only five Tests to play before this winter’s Ashes series. Keaton Jennings keeps his place for now but Gary Ballance misses out with a broken finger, so Essex’s Tom Westley makes his debut at 3. Mark Stoneman can consider himself unfortunate to miss out on the squad, particularly as Dawid Malan has also been brought into the squad. Stoneman has racked up 761 County Championship runs this summer following his summer move from Durham but has surprisingly been overlooked in favour of the Middlesex middle-order batsman.
If Malan also makes his debut, he will most likely replace Liam Dawson in an effort to strengthen the batting. Dawson hasn’t been able to live up to the number one spinner tag placed on him by England and may be sacrificed, particularly as Westley’s off-breaks would give the team a sixth bowling option. Mark Wood has struggled to find his rhythm so far but will most likely keep his place for the rest of the series at least.
England have come in for a fair amount of criticism following their miserable performance at Trent Bridge, where they were bowled out twice within 100 overs. Joe Root and Ben Stokes have both hit back at those questioning the fight and desire of the team, though the batting will need to improve significantly following seven defeats in their last ten Tests.
South Africa return to London on a high after an excellent all-round performance at Trent Bridge. Their batting was determined, their bowling accurate and skillful and their fielding much improved on their Lord’s performance, and the return of Kagiso Rabada to the side will give them a further boost. The return of captain Faf du Plessis was a key factor in their improvement between the first and second Tests, both strengthening the batting and bringing direction and organisation in the field.
Chris Morris’ performance was also a highlight for South Africa, bowling fast, sharp spells and contributing helpful lower-order runs alongside Vernon Philander, who justified his promotion to number seven. Rabada will replace Duanne Olivier to complete a formidable seam attack that will look forward to facing a frail England batting lineup. Heino Kuhn needs some runs as opener to nail down his place in the side.
As mentioned earlier, this will be the 100th Test match to be held at The Oval. Only Lord’s (134), the MCG (109) and SCG (105) have hosted more Tests. England’s recent record there is surprisingly poor, only winning two of the last seven Tests. South Africa and Hashim Amla in particular will have fond memories of The Oval – it was here that he made his 311 not out in South Africa’s 637-2 declared, which set up an innings victory in the first match of the 2012 series.
Following the recent mild and damp weather, the pitch looked a little green two days before the start of the Test but it would be a major surprise to see anything other than a good batting wicket come Thursday, which will give England no excuses as they look to bounce back following their miserable effort in Nottingham.