LONDON: England captain Joe Root won the toss and elected to bat against South Africa in the third Test at The Oval on Thursday.
Root made his decision despite overcast skies and a green-tinged pitch both offering the prospect of assistance for the Proteas’ impressive pace attack in what was the 100th Test staged at The Oval, the south London headquarters of county side Surrey.
England made three changes, all debutants, following their 340-run thrashing in the second Test at Trent Bridge last week that saw the Proteas level the four-match series at 1-1.
Essex batsman Tom Westley replaced injured number three Gary Ballance while Middlesex paceman Toby Roland-Jones came in for Mark Wood after the Durham quick was ruled out with a heel problem.
Meanwhile Roland-Jones’s Middlesex colleague Dawid Malan, born in London but brought up in South Africa, was also given a Test debut at the expense of dropped spinner Liam Dawson as England looked to strengthen their fallible top-order batting, with the hosts bowled out for just 133 in their second innings at Trent Bridge.
Malan made a match-winning 78 in England’s Twenty20 international win against South Africa in Cardiff last month.
It was the first time England had included three debutants in a Test side since Sam Robson, Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali all made their bows against Sri Lanka in a hard-fought draw at Lord’s in 2014.
“It does look a little bit green,” admitted Root at the toss.
“We have three debutants, so it’s very exciting and a chance for them to show what they can do,” the star batsman added.
“We’ve gone with the extra batting option and hopefully it’s a strong week for us.”
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was happy to be in the field, saying: “I was very unsure about what to do on this wicket.
“There are overcast conditions, but the English team wanted to bat first. It’s an opportunity to get at them in the first hour with the ball.”
England’s rejigged batting order saw Malan included at number five, with wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow dropping down to seven and Ali, now the lone specialist spinner in Dawson’s absence, listed at eight.
South Africa made just the one change, with fast bowler Kagiso Rabada – who served a one-match ban at Trent Bridge for swearing at England’s Ben Stokes during the hosts’ 211-run victory in the first Test at Lord’s – returning in place of Duanne Olivier.
It was at The Oval five years ago where Hashim Amla, playing in this match as well, made South Africa’s record individual Test score of 311 not out.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 27, 2017