PRETORIA (Reuters) – Alastair Cook believes the perfect end to England’s winning series in South Africa would be a strong showing from his under-performing top-order batsmen in the fourth and final test, starting on Friday at Centurion Park.
The tourists already have an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, but with home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan and trips to Bangladesh and India still to come this year, there are positions to be firmed up, especially at the top of the order.
“A lot of the runs have been scored by Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. The other guys haven’t quite contributed, myself included,” Cook told reporters on Thursday.
“The guys are desperate to shore up their spots so when the meeting comes for the Sri Lankan series, they’ve earned that right. I’m really looking forward to this week to see how people respond to that.”
While his place is not under threat despite a lean series that has yielded just 103 runs at an average of 17, his new opening partner Alex Hales could do with a big score, having managed just 17 more.
Nick Compton has looked composed at number three but averaged only 36.66 against a largely inexperienced South African bowling attack, while James Taylor has returned an average of less than 30 from his six innings.
It was a point picked up by South Africa captain AB de Villiers.
“The batting unit is not 100 percent the best in the world,” he told a news conference. “I believe we can find a few cracks in the batting line-up.”
England will also have to make a choice between seamers Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan and uncapped Mark Footitt after Steven Finn was ruled out of the remainder of the tour with a side injury.
“All three are different options and are desperate to be selected,” Cook said. “We haven’t made our minds up yet. If in doubt, you play your strongest side.”
Cook also said there would be no let-up in intensity from his team, even though the series is already won.
“Our training yesterday was as intense as it was at the start of the tour – it would be great end the tour unbeaten,” he said.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Kevin Liffey)