Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town

England captain Alastair Cook will not need any reminding of the task that lies ahead of his England side in what may well be one of the toughest tests his team have faced in a number of years.

Winning in South Africa is difficult, but certainly not impossible, with memories of England's stunning 2004-05 series win still fresh in the minds of many.

However, it remains their only series win over the Rainbow Nation since they were allowed back into the sport nearly 25 years ago.

Back then it was the batting talents of Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughn that eased England to victory in the first and fourth tests of a 2-1 series triumph.

If that win is anything to go by, England will have to start strongly.

Eleven years ago it was Matthew Hoggard who made an early breakthrough by trapping Graeme Smith with only the second ball of the series.

Fast-forward to 2015 and Cook's men will look for a similar first-test success on Boxing Day in Durban, a ground that saw England record one of their most emphatic victories over the world's current number one side.

Spinner Graeme Swann shone brightest with second innings figures of 5-54, although he was well backed up with an impressive 4-42 from Stuart Broad, while Cook and Ian Bell notched 118 and 140 with the bat respectively, as England cruised to victory by an innings and 98 runs.

England could not carry on from that success, going on to draw the series one match apiece.

Such a convincing win nevertheless comes in stark contrast to England's last Boxing Day appearance in Australia in 2013, where they slipped to an eight-wicket defeat at the MCG to go 4-0 down in a disastrous Ashes series.

That match saw many question the role of wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, who as well as producing just 31 runs in two innings, dropped Chris Rogers twice as the Australian went on to score a match-winning century.

But there is a feeling in the England camp that Bairstow has matured since that horrow show two years ago, with coach Trevor Bayliss already insisting that he has no issue with making him the team's first-choice keeper.

While undoubtedly a confidence boost, Bairstow has only kept wicket in three tests since regaining the gloves from Jos Buttler for the final match of the series against Pakistan in the UAE last month.

One thing is for sure in this four-match series, the competition between Bairstow and opposite number AB de Villiers will present an intriguing side-plot, not just behind the stumps, but with the bat too.

A win in the second test in Cape Town on January 2nd would be a great place to start, with England having not won there since 1957.

It is a test that could see the return of fast bowler Steven Finn, who has earned a place in the squad having recovered from a foot injury and could be called upon in the event of a sluggish bowling attack.

In contrast, Johannesburg will evoke fond memories for the travelling Barmy Army, with England's 77-run win there in 2005 proving decisive in a historic series victory.

Cook and co will be hoping to replicate that by the time proceedings at Centurion eight days later have come to an end. 



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