England, despite a year filled with inconsistency in the Test format, go into the four match series as firm favourites against the Proteas. England may have been inconsistent but they can at least point to a World Cup trophy in their cabinet, while Faf du Plessis’ men have had a year to forget that included the team’s worst World Cup showing and defeats in their last five Test matches - including a series loss at home to Sri Lanka.
South Africa goes into the first Test with preparation that has been far from ideal. The administrative fiasco meant Graeme Smith was only appointed as an interim Director of Cricket two weeks ago while the team’s head coach, Mark Boucher, has had just over a week to train the squad.
However there has been a lightening of the mood in South African cricket in that period and it is noticeable that the players are feeling much better about themselves.
Du Plessis explained how they have all appreciated the interaction they’ve had with the new coaches that include Charl Langeveldt and batting consultant Jacques Kallis. That may give the players a lift for the first couple of sessions in Centurion on Thursday, but how long will it last, especially if England can land an early blow?