If South Africa are relieved they may escape facing James Anderson, who is battling a calf injury ahead Durban Test, they are doing a good job of keeping it a secret. In fact, they seem more concerned about what Anderson's absence could mean for the overall atmosphere of what is expected to be a highly-charged series.

"That's a big blow for the series if he doesn't play," said Morne Morkel, South Africa's new-ball bowler. "We want the best for this summer. If Jimmy is fit, it's great for cricket.

"I have got a lot of respect for Jimmy. His skill with the ball is quality. I really hope he is fit to showcase that."

Apparently, it is not just the fans the South Africans are thinking of, but themselves as well.

"You want to test yourself against the best as we did in India - we went there and we tested against the best," Temba Bavuma, who opened the batting in the Delhi Test and gave a solid account of himself against R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, said. "Here with the ball swinging and nipping around, you also wanted to be tested against the best."

Instead, it's England's batsmen who can look forward to going up against the greatest. Although Vernon Philander will miss the first two matches with ankle ligament tears, the world's top-ranked Test bowler, Dale Steyn, has been given the all-clear for a comeback.

Steyn missed three of the four Tests in India after he picked up a groin injury in the first match in Mohali, but has since made a full recovery. He bowled two full spells in the nets when the squad met up on Tuesday and then tested his own team-mates with pace and swing again on Wednesday. Morkel believes the best is yet to come.

"Dale has got a bit of sideline fever and he is ready to go," Morkel said. "He has really worked hard. You can just see the venom he has been bowling with in the nets today and it's exciting. There's been a lot said about him on social media and off the field and he will be ready to prove a point."

In humid conditions, with the first rainclouds of a summer headlined by drought beginning to form, there is certain to be swing in the air and now Morkel can contribute in that discipline too. In Steyn's absence in India, Morkel led the attack and, surprisingly produced sensational spells of reserve swing in Nagpur - the same ground where Steyn had the ball singing his tune five years ago on the 2010 tour - and he hopes to replicate that in Durban.

"It was pleasing for me to get that skill going, especially now in Durban where the ball can scuff up," Morkel said. "It was pleasing for me that I could sort that part of my game out and hopefully it can come into play in this Test series."

And if he can't find the same movement he did in India, Morkel has promised to add something new anyway because he also did some work on introducing variation into his game in India. "I am more consistent in mixing up my lengths now," he explained. "Setting a batsman up where he is thinking I am going to bowl back of a length and then surprise him with a yorker or a fuller one. That's the sort of thing I've brought in to my game.

"At times it can look bad because it looks like I am bowling a half-volley but it's all part of a plan. If it comes off it looks nice but if it doesn't I'll take it on the chin. I think it's crucial because you can't just be a one dimensional, one-length bowler. You need to mix it up to get wickets."

The advantages of having a multi-skilled attack are so great that it seems even if Kingsmead presents the sides with a green mamba on Saturday morning, South Africa will hesitate to go into the match without a specialist spinner.

"I like having a spinner in a team," said Hashim Amla, South Africa's captain. "I think it gives you good balance, especially in the last innings when there is a little bit of something and it also gives the seam bowlers a bit of rest. Over the last couple of years we've played here, it seemed to turn a bit towards the latter end of the game so there's always merit in playing a spinner."

Dane Piedt is the only option available to South Africa and if he is included in the XI, it would leave the team management with a choice between the home boy Kyle Abbott and young tearaway Kagiso Rabada. But they would rather have that problem than the one England are facing, which is the prospect of starting the series without their best bowler.