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England, South Africa set for clash

AP

England will begin its bid to knock South Africa off the top of the test rankings without its attack spearhead after James Anderson was ruled out of Saturday’s first cricket test at Kingsmead.

The 33-year-old Anderson played a limited role in England’s warmup matches after complaining of stiffness in his right calf, and on Thursday it was confirmed he would not be available for the opening match of a four-test series.

The absence of England’s leading test wicket-taker leaves the door open for Chris Woakes to play his first test in 16 months. He is expected to join Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Ben Stokes in a four-man pace attack, which will be supplemented by the spin of Moeen Ali.

“Of course it’s disappointing when you lose the spearhead of your attack but I think it’s just a real slight niggle and the management decided it really wasn’t worth the risk in the first test,” Broad said of Anderson’s injury.

“He’s disappointed but with the strength in depth we’ve got in this group it’s not a hammer blow to us.”

Despite the loss and its low ranking of sixth, England can go into the series confident of its ability to take advantage of a wounded opponent, with the Proteas smarting from a 3-0 defeat in a four-match series in India.

The series loss cut South Africa’s lead at the top of the International Cricket Council’s test rankings from 19 points to four, ahead of India, and a series defeat to England would see the Proteas lose their top ranking to either India or Australia.

Alex Hales will become Alastair Cook’s eighth opening partner since these two sides last met in a test match more than three years ago, and will face a fearsome challenge on his test debut after Dale Steyn was passed fit.

“He’s been a handful for those of us who have had the misfortune of facing him in the nets,” South Africa captain Hashim Amla said of Steyn.