POTCHEFSTROOM, South Africa (Reuters) – England’s warm-up matches for England before the first test against South Africa will go a long way to determining who bats in the No. 3 spot, coach Trevor Bayliss said on Saturday. “Probably in my mind, I’ve got a little thought who it might be but we’ve got two very important practice matches before the first test which could go a long way to us finalising that position,” he said of the battle between Nick Compton and Gary Ballance to follow the openers in the test team. “We don’t know our best XI quiet yet which is an indication of where we are as a side in terms of the inconsistency, so there are a lot of things up for grabs and a lot of (opportunity) for people to make a name for themselves,” captain Alastair Cook said at the team’s first news conference since their arrival for the four-test series starting in Durban on Boxing Day. “The net sessions over the next days will be particularly intense with everyone trying to put themselves forward,” Cook said. Bayliss confirmed that Alex Hales will open with Cook as the captain had said when England departed for South Africa, adding that Ben Stokes will be fit for the test after recovering from a shoulder injury.
“He’s been batting and bowling for a few weeks now,” added Bayliss. Steven Finn, playing for England A against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates after recovering from injury, could also be called over for the series in South Africa. “There are one or two small hurdles to get over but the signs are looking good,” Bayliss said.
“If he can get through pain free and bowling well, I’d expect to see him here at some stage.” Bayliss played down suggestions England could take advantage of a South African side who lost 3-0 in their test series in India last month. “I don’t think that really matters because to win away from home is very difficult. The simple thing is that we are playing the best team (in the test rankings) at home and we are under no illusions that it’s going to be a difficult tour,” he said.
“The main thing we can do is concentrate on ourselves and play good cricket. If we play good cricket then we have a chance of doing well.” England play their first warm-up match against a South African Invitation XI in Potchefstroom from Dec. 15-17 and face a similar selection side in Pietermaritzburg from Dec. 20-22.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ed Osmond)