London: England captain Ben Stokes said he was excited by the prospect of Harry Brook’s Test debut after confirming the Yorkshire batsman would replace the injured Jonny Bairstow in the series finale against South Africa.
Brook is the only change to the England XI that levelled the three-match series with a commanding victory in the second Test at Old Trafford after Bairstow was ruled out with a freak leg injury suffered playing golf.
Bairstow has been in stellar form this year, scoring 1,061 runs, including six centuries, in 10 Tests.
“Harry is someone who has been spoken about a lot as representing England going forward,” Stokes said at the Oval on Wednesday, on the eve of the deciding Test. “It’s amazing how sometimes people’s opportunities get presented to them… He deserved his opportunity to be in the squad initially and he deserves his opportunity this week.”
The skipper said he felt “devastated” for Bairstow, who will also miss the T20 World Cup in Australia, which starts next month.
“He’s been a massive reason as to why we’ve had such a successful summer,” he said. “It was a freak accident.”
But all-rounder Stokes added: “The way in which our middle order has been playing this summer, I feel as if Harry coming in, the way he goes about his game with the bat in his hand is pretty much a like-for-like replacement.
“He’s always going to look to take the bowling on, take the positive option. It’s obviously devastating to not have Jonny but I’m very excited we get a replacement with the skill Jonny possesses.”
Brook, 23, has played four Twenty20 internationals for England.
South Africa won the first Test at Lord’s by an innings and 12 runs, only for England to bounce back to win by an innings and 85 runs in Manchester during another match wrapped up inside three days.
“We know that South Africa are always going to stay in the game and stay in the moment,” said Stokes.
Bounce back from heavy defeat
“We put the Lord’s defeat behind us and we concentrated on Manchester so I know that Dean (Elgar, the Proteas captain) and the South Africa team will be doing the same thing here.
“I think it’s great for the series that it goes down to the wire. I know that South Africa are going to come out firing but it’s how we respond to the questions that they ask us.”
South Africa captain Dean Elgar is treating the Test at the Oval “like a World Cup final” as the Proteas seek to recover from a heavy defeat.
Elgar is confident the well-rested Proteas can secure a win that would take them back to the top of the World Test Championship table.
“It’s pretty much like a World Cup final for us, that’s the way I’m viewing it,” Elgar said on the eve of the match on Wednesday.
South Africa have not lost a Test series since Elgar took over the captaincy last year and the 35-year-old opener knows what is at stake.
“It’s the biggest Test so far in my captaincy,” he said.
“The players know that, they sense that. You have to empty the tank. You can’t leave anything behind. It’s huge for us, massive.
“I’ve never experienced a Test series win against England, and that’s after playing for 10 years.
He added: “We know if we manage to win this game we’re back at number one. It’s pretty much like a World Cup final for us, that’s the way I’m viewing it.”
‘Walk the walk’
Elgar confirmed Ryan Rickelton, who was in good form for English county side Northamptonshire earlier this season, would replace Rassie van der Dussen after the batsman was ruled out with a broken finger.
While declining to name his side, he also said other changes were possible, with Khaya Zondo in line to replace struggling batsman Aiden Markram and left-arm quick Marco Jansen bidding for a recall at the expense of off-spinner Simon Harmer.
Top-order runs have been a long-standing issue for South Africa — the Proteas have posted just one fifty in the series, Sarel Erwee’s 73 at Lord’s.
“I know how much top-order runs mean for a team to set up a successful chance of victory,” said Elgar, who has scored 13 hundreds in his 78 Tests.
“It’s been a frustration, but it’s something we’ve worked on hard. We’ve spoken at length about this topic, and now it’s time to walk the walk.”
Break from cricket
South Africa have used some of their downtime to take a break from cricket by playing golf at the Belfry course in central England, with go-kart racing also proving a popular way for the tourists to relax and get the Old Trafford loss out of their system.
“We’ve only had six days of Test cricket (this tour),” said Elgar. “With regards to freshness, we’ve got no excuse. With regards to hunger, we’ve got no excuse.
“We had a few good days out of the noise and the hustle and bustle to remind ourselves why we’re here — we’re here to win a Test series.”