The tour may not have started well for opener Alex Hales, but England head coach Trevor Bayliss has indicated that he is almost certain to make his Test debut, alongside skipper Alastair Cook at the top of the order, in the first Test against South Africa in Durban, which starts on Boxing Day.
When I had been out of the England side, or indeed when I made my debut versus India at Lord’s in 2007, I got told the night before that I would be playing. For me, it’s a huge bonus that Alex knows that he is set to open the batting well in advance.
Because he knows his position is nailed down, it allows him to mentally prepare for the challenge ahead and he doesn’t have to do the extra bit of work in the nets, for instance, to impress the coaches. Even though he has had a couple of low scores in this week’s warm-up match, he can just relax and do the training which he feels he needs.
If you’re one of a few players going for a single spot, there is the temptation to try and stand out every second of every day and do certain extra things which don’t really add anything to your preparation. That has been removed from the equation.
The tour, however, will be a big challenge for Alex. He was an unused member of England’s touring party for the Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and he has played a lot of limited-overs cricket, so he knows the set-up and will be used to the spotlight.
In that respect, there won’t be a huge adjustment from white-ball cricket to red, but pitches in South Africa tend to be spicy, particularly on the first couple of days, and the ball will be swinging around, which doesn’t happen so much in one-day cricket.
He is also likely to be facing two of the best bowlers in the world in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, but I just hope he plays his natural game and gives England’s top order some additional aggression, and heaps the pressure back on the bowlers.
Recalled duo Nick Compton and Gary Ballance appear to be battling it out for the No3 slot after Ian Bell’s axing. As I have said, it can be slightly unsettling not knowing if you’re certain to play, and that is heightened after periods of time in the international wilderness.
Gary was dropped midway through this summer’s Ashes so the personnel will be largely similar but Nick has not played Test cricket since 2013 so it will take a little bit of time to adjust to the new regime – there is a new coach and captain in place and a host of new faces in that England dressing room.
The biggest thing will be the increased intensity which comes with international cricket compared to county cricket, but he has been there before and I’m sure he will be prepared for the tussles ahead, between what look like two very evenly-matched sides.