July 27-31, 2017
Start time: 11.00am (1000 GMT)
The series sits exactly where we want it at the halfway stage with the sides locked at 1-1. An dominant England at Lord's turned into a dominated England at Trent Bridge, a surprisingly meek South Africa in London became the strong side we have become used to in Nottingham and so it's the visitors who feel they have the advantage going into the next two clashes.
While South Africa fixed their problems from the first to the second Test, England created theirs. In South Africa's case, a change in personnel saw JP Duminy dropped, Quinton de Kock moved up to No.4 and the seventh specialist batsman dispensed with in favour of an allrounder and that seems to be the combination they will stick with.
England, though, discovered Gary Ballance has not sufficiently developed his game to become the No.3 they want, that Liam Dawson is the second spinner as much as they want to convince themselves and Moeen Ali otherwise and that Mark Wood is not as potent as they need the third-prong in the pace pack to be. Changes will be made with Tom Westley and Toby Roland-Jones confirmed for debuts due to injuries to Ballance and Wood, but there's also a mindset change needed by England.
Several former players criticised England's attacking approach and questioned the current crop's Test cricket temperament. The harsh words stung and Ben Stokes said they are desperate to prove them wrong. South Africa have also had a verbal storm brewing, with media at home stewing in response to comments Graeme Pollock made that transformation will condemn South Africa to being a "middle of the road" Test team. So far, they've been either side of that middle and their challenge is to find consistency, especially as the decision on the future of the coach is yet to be made.
Whether Russell Domingo will keep his job if South Africa seal the series is not certain though it would look odd if he doesn't but for now, at least he is back. Domingo returned to the UK at the weekend following the death of his mother so South Africa have been stabilised, England appear less so.
The situation is perfectly poised for a riveting second half of the series and there can be no more fitting a venue to start than The Oval as the ground hosts its 100th Test. Celebrations will include the attendance of several former players who achieved great things at the stadium along with some current ones. Five years ago, Hashim Amla became South Africa's only Test triple-centurion with an unbeaten 311 that set South Africa up for a massive win. He has named The Oval as one of his top three or four grounds in the world.
England LWLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WLDWD
In the spotlight
Tom Westley was preferred over Mark Stoneman to replace Ballance in the XI, ostensibly to break up the number of left-handers in the line-up but his job will extend far beyond batting right-handed. Westley's main task will have to show composure in response to the criticism England received for their brash batting in Nottingham. But this is also a chance for Westley to carve out a career. The No.3 spot is undecided and if he can make it his own, he might be able to hold on to it in an important period for the Test side, which will soon travel to an Ashes series.
He could have used the two weeks to put his feet up in the south of France but Kagiso Rabada used his time in the sin-bin to upskill. He spent every day of the Trent Bridge Test getting in the same workload he would have had if he'd played the match and has been training at full tilt in preparation for The Oval. Rabada felt he let the team down by accumulating demerit points that led to his suspension and wants to make it up by bowling at his best in the rest of the series. Whether he has also been working on his send-offs is yet to be seen.
England could yet have three debutants with the decision between Dawid Malan and Liam Dawson being left for the morning after rain prevented a close look at the pitch on Wednesday. If Malan does play it would likely mean Jonny Bairstow dropping back down to No. 7
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Keaton Jennings, 3 Tom Westley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Liam Dawson, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Toby Roland-Jones, 11 James Anderson
South Africa shook things up at Trent Bridge and so the only change in personnel is to strengthen the attack. Rabada is back in with Duanne Olivier making way.
South Africa (probable) 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Heino Kuhn, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Quinton de Kock (wk), 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Vernon Philander, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Morne Morkel
Pitch and conditions
Cooler conditions are expected throughout the game with rain forecast for the first and fourth days, but the spell of warm weather means the pitch may still offer some turn. There was plenty of grass on the surface two days out but that can often be deceptive. It was covered for much of Wednesday due to rain.
Stats and trivia
- This is the 100th Test match at the Oval. Only three other grounds have hosted a century of Tests: Lord's, the MCG and the SCG.
- South Africa have played 13 Tests at the Oval and only won one, in 2012.
- Joe Root needs 125 more runs to complete 5000 runs in Test cricket; Ben Stokes is 23 away from 2000.
"I think it's important to look at the surface and decide what's going to be the best side to play South Africa in those conditions. So, we'll turn up tomorrow, take a look at the wicket and make a decision. We're a better side than we showed last week."
"I am excited to see what KG is going to bring to this game. With the time off, always as a player it makes you a little bit hungry again and the fact that we have done well in the previous game will add as motivation. The conditions, if the weather is like this, will be a bit bowling friendly so I assume he will be raring to get that ball in his hand."
Faf du Plessis
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent