If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.
Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.
Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.
More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.
In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.
Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.
South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.
It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?
In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.
There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.
Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).
Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.
So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.
If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.
South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.
South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.
Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.
James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.
England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.
Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.
Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.
This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.
The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.
If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.