England's cricketers arrive in Johannesburg Friday, with just over two weeks to prepare for a four-Test series against South Africa.
Two three-day warm-up games will help the tourists to decide on the make-up of their best eleven for a series in which both teams will seek to return to winning ways.
The first Test starts in Durban on December 26.
England will have two three-day warm-up matches against South African Invitation teams, in Potchefstroom from next Tuesday and in Pietermaritzburg from December 20.
One of the key questions for the tour selectors will be to decide on an opening partner for captain Alastair Cook.
Moeen Ali opened with Cook in a losing series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates recently but is expected to bat lower in the order against South Africa.
Other opening batsmen in the tour party are South Africa-born Nick Compton, who made two centuries in nine Tests before being discarded after a series against New Zealand in May 2013, and Alex Hales, whose only England appearances so far have been in limited overs games.
With long-serving Ian Bell having been dropped after the Pakistan series, the number three position also needs to be filled, with Gary Ballance seeking a recall after being dropped during England’s victorious Ashes series against Australia this year.
Other decisions include whether Jos Buttler or Jonny Bairstow should keep wicket and the composition of a bowling attack in which James Anderson, Stuart Broad and all-rounder Ben Stokes are the only established players.
South Africa had their lead on the International Cricket Council’s rankings cut to just four points when they were mauled 3-0 in a four-Test series in India which ended on Monday, while England languish in fifth place after being beaten 2-0 by Pakistan in a three-match series in October and November.
Both teams will hope those recent losses in foreign conditions were an aberration.
Before their setback against Pakistan, England defeated Australia, while South Africa’s loss to India was their first on an away tour in nine years.
England will be buoyed by their results on recent tours of South Africa. Michael Vaughan led them to a 2-1 series win in 2004/05, while Andrew Strauss’ team shared the 2009/10 series.
All 16 members of the touring party will be able to play in the opening match in Potchefstroom, which is not a first-class fixture.
The opposition will consist mainly of young players from South Africa’s second-tier, semi-professional provincial competition.
England: Alastair Cook (capt), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wkt), Nick Compton, Mark Footitt, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Samit Patel, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Taylor, Chris Woakes
15-17: SA Invitation XI, Potchefstroom
20-22: SA Invitation XI, Pietermaritzburg
26-30: First Test, Durban
2-6: Second Test, Cape Town
14-18: Third Test, Johannesburg
22-26: Fourth Test, Centurion
Note: Test series will be followed by five one-day internationals and two Twenty20 internationals
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