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Faf talks tough amid batting concerns

There are crucial areas that both England and South Africa need to address heading into the final test at Old Trafford. England have the benefit of coming off a solid win and a series lead, so their shortcomings are somewhat camouflaged.

Faf was blunt in my interview immediately after The Oval defeat and admitted his charges were very disappointing in a number of areas. He also said that the errors made were bad but basic, and believed they could be corrected in a short turnaround time. Since that test, solid meetings and tough talks have taken place and the skipper has demanded collective intensity to end the tour.

Joe Root was understandably elated with their comprehensive victory and delighted that a debutant excelled, their game-breaking all-rounder impacted brilliantly, and their so-called second spinner snared a hat-trick to seal the 100th test at The Oval.

The conditions in Manchester are wet. Solid rain left the ground under water 10 days ago and consistent rain has greeted both teams upon arrival. The Old Trafford pitch is normally terrific with some pace and bounce, but expect this one to be different due to the challenging conditions on crucial preparation days. The batsmen will still be tested though and immediately that spells danger for both teams.

The Proteas opening batting situation is a conundrum. The opening partnership in the second innings of the previous test was worth 21 runs and, disturbingly, that has been the highest of the last 12 innings. Prior to that there were two century stands in a row between Elgar and Cook.

Every single accolade that goes the way of Dean Elgar is thoroughly deserved, and his gutsy century in London was an admirable example of mental toughness coupled with the ability to identify and scrap through difficult periods. Two days ago he showed me his battered, bruised and perhaps broken left index finger. He then shrugged his shoulders and said he's good and raring to go.

Elgar has now scored over 1000 runs with four centuries for South Africa at an average of 45 in the past year. I have no doubt though that he would dearly like to find a solid partner at the top. The bonds that are formed by a pair of successful international openers are unique. They have a tough job and take great pride in confronting the opposition’s quickest and best and successfully negating them.

England do not escape criticism either in the batting department. They have been scratching their heads over their all too common batting folds. They have suffered 22 substantial batting collapses during their last 39 test matches and they can't seem to find a solution to halt the rot when it starts.

The weather throughout this Old Trafford test will be a far cry from a barmy English summer. It will be cold and rain-interrupted with overcast conditions on what will be a seaming track that will incentivise the likes of Philander. Batsmen will have their work cut out but the pitch will not be quick or bouncy. Lateral movement will abound and techniques will be tested.

In Manchester, top-five engine room batting will be under the microscope. Whoever weathers that storm will have the upper hand, and that will be decisive in the series outcome.

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