England are contemplating whether to field an all-seam attack for the second Test running, according to the head coach, Chris Silverwood. The tourists' build-up for the Boxing Day Test at Centurion has been disrupted by illness in the camp, with frontline spinner Jack Leach one of the players affected, and Silverwood said the stats suggest "seam is the way forward" at SuperSport Park.
In their previous outing, on last month's tour of New Zealand, England picked four seamers and Ben Stokes at Hamilton, but only succeeded in taking 12 wickets in a rain-affected draw.
England's selection discussions this time around will be coloured by the fact that Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer missed both warm-up games with sickness, while James Anderson is in line to play his first Test since August, after suffering a calf injury that ruled him out of the Ashes. Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and Craig Overton are the other quicks in the party, along with Mark Wood, who is working his way back to fitness and won't be available until the third Test.
"Yeah, I think it is," Silverwood said in response to whether it was possible England could play an all-seam attack. "Obviously in Hamilton we looked at all the stats, who took wickets at the ground, and it showed that spin didn't really play much part in the games, or certainly have much effect on the games.
"We look at the stats for this ground, it's the same thing, you're looking at wickets taken by seam, wickets taken by spin and the averages that go along with them, it suggests that seam is the way forward, and the thing that has most effect on the game here, so we're certainly looking at that."
Leach played in Mount Maunganui at the start of the New Zealand series, taking 2 for 153 as England went down by an innings, but was then hospitalised by a bout of gastroenteritis in Hamilton before falling unwell on the team's arrival in South Africa. Uncapped legspinner Matt Parkinson was the back-up slow bowler originally selected in the party and England have also called up Leach's Somerset team-mate Dom Bess as cover.
"We've got some good resources in the spin department, Leachy is coming back to fitness now, we've got Dominic Bess here as well, Parky who bowled nicely in Benoni. So we've got the resources but we're looking at it for what it is, what has most effect in this game. We're not definitely going down the road of all seam, but it's something we've got to discuss over the next few days.
"It's not rocket science, every team has these stats. You look at what's effective on that ground and then you look at what you've got in your arsenal and try to put out the best side you can."
Broad and Archer both delivered five-over spells at training in Centurion on Monday, as well as batting in the nets, as they looked to prove their match fitness for the first Test. Silverwood echoed Joe Root's view that England will be relying on "trust" when it comes to their capability of getting through a full five days, although he admitted there "maybe a little bit more caution" over Archer, who is just six Tests into his career.
"I think they're exactly where we'd hope they would be really, if they continue with another couple of good days training, all being well they'll be able to throw their hats in the ring for selection for the first Test," he said.
Asked if it might be considered a gamble to go into the Test with Broad, Archer and Anderson in the same XI, Silverwood replied: "I don't think so, as long as from the medical point of view they feel good."
Anderson was the pick of the England bowlers in their three-day game in Benoni that finished on Sunday, claiming tidy figures of 3 for 41 as South Africa A made kept Root's men in the field for 93.2 overs. With the bat, England saw Joe Denly and Ollie Pope score centuries, and Silverwood was pleased with the application that underpinned a total of 456 for 7 declared.
"I thought both teams came away with something positive, I know we certainly did," he said. "If you look at it from a first-innings runs point of view, we're continuing to build those methods and create good habits there. From a bowling perspective we got over in the legs of Jimmy and the rest of the bowlers, and they all started finding their rhythm, which was great."