In final Test, England’s ‘not best in the world’ batting has something still to prove

Both AB de Villiers and Nick Compton agree – despite England's dominance this series, their top-order batting could still stand to lave a mark.

England's Nick Compton plays a shot during the third Test against South Africa in Johannesburg last weekend. Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters / January 15, 2016
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England's top order are determined to end the Test series against South Africa on a high after failing to give their team solid starts so far, says number three Nick Compton. They will be doing so against a Proteas side AB de Villiers says are still fighting for pride.

The touring side hold an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series heading into the fourth and final match starting at Centurion Park on Friday. Both Compton and De Villiers agree much is left to play for.

“For me and a lot of the other guys, there’s a lot to play for. It’s a Test match for England,” Compton told reporters on Wednesday.

“You’re playing in South Africa, it’s another great experience being at a ground many of us haven’t played at before and there’s a lot of personal pride.

“And obviously from a team point of view, make no bones about it, this team wants to keep moving forwards.”

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De Villiers, meanwhile, says there are “no dead rubbers” to him.

“There are no dead rubbers when it comes to Test match cricket. We’d hate to lose 3-0. I think 2-1 sounds a lot better.

“We haven’t won a Test match for 12 months. We are rebuilding a bit and trying to find our feet but it’s time for us to wake up and play proper cricket.”

The 32-year-old Compton, who was born in South Africa, returned to the Test arena after a two-year absence at the start of the tour and has contributed 220 runs at an average of 36.66.

Although England have flourished in the middle order, with Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow all contributing big scores, openers Alastair Cook and Alex Hales have struggled.

“As a top-order batter you’ve never got enough runs and there’s always continual improvement, so that’s something I’m looking to put right in this Test match,” Compton added.

“I feel like I have contributed, but we’d always like to contribute more.”

South Africa captain De Villiers, however, believes they can be held at bay. He said that although England “seem to know what they are doing, there is no doubt in my mind that there are weaknesses there”.

Asked to elaborate, he said: “The batting unit is not 100 per cent the best in the world. I believe we can find a few cracks in the batting line-up.”

Compton opened the batting when he first played for England in 2012-13 but has been coming in at number three in this series.

“Batting at three or opening is an important place to play because you really set the tone and set up the innings. I think from a positional point of view it has responsibility,” he said.

“I haven’t played as much as some of the guys but I like to engender those sort of feelings, be someone the guys can bat around and depend on. Someone who is consistent in his approach.

“It’s not something you can force, respect from your teammates comes over time and through performance and it’s one of my goals to earn that respect,” he said.

England captain Alastair Cook said he hoped his side would continue to be as “ruthless” as they were in Johannesburg.

“Our training yesterday was as intense as it was at the start of the tour – it would be great end the tour unbeaten.”

Cook acknowledged there was some validity in De Villiers’ comments about the England batting.

“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, so we have the opportunity in this game.”

Cook said Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan and uncapped Mark Footitt were all in contention to replace injured fast bowler Steven Finn.

“It’s a big decision, they all three provide different options.”

De Villiers confirmed that specialist opening batsman Stephen Cook would be in the South Africa team and also hinted that steady seamer Kyle Abbott and off-spinner Dane Piedt would come back into the side.

He was only appointed for the last two Tests of the series but said he would like to remain involved.

“I am keen to play a big role going forward but it’s not solely my decision,” he said.

“I’ve seen a lot of talent come through. We just need to get a bit of experience and a few smart heads involved.”

He wants to meet Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat and convener of selectors Linda Zondi “to find out exactly where we are going to go”.

There has been criticism of the lack of hard experience in the South African coaching set-up and in particular the lack of a batting coach.

De Villiers agreed that a batting coach was a priority.

“I think we have been a bit naïve in believing we can just go on in the way we have been. We need to get a bit of advice and help, not only from a batting coach, a few other areas as well.

“That will all be discussed after the series. We have a nice break and time to think about things.”

South Africa’s next Test series comes against New Zealand in August. England are scheduled to play home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan this year before tours of Bangladesh and India.

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