England and South Africa begin a Test series on Thursday next week. Given the diet of non-stop limited-overs cricket over the last few months, a return to the old-fashioned five-day format will take some getting used to.
And not just for the punters. The players one would expect to be involved are dropping like drunk flies banging their heads against plate glass on a hot day.
But the hosts have injury worries. Chris Woakes, a genuine all-rounder, is almost certainly out of the series. There are also fitness concerns over Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Jake Ball. Meanwhile, attack leader James Anderson, in what could be his final year for England, has only just come back from a niggle. And the selectors are mighty concerned he keeps breaking down after a decent injury-free spell.
South Africa are in a bit of a state. Their star player AB De Villiers appears to be counting the days until he can call it quits on Test cricket and concentrate on ODI. Insiders suggest that he will walk for good come August. So he is not named in the squad
It is hardly the ideal message to send to those who remain for what is supposed to be a highly competitive series against two fiercely proud Test nations. Indeed, before the drop outs and injuries this looked like being a humdinger.
Another South African who is more in and out than the hokey cokey is Faf Du Plessis, who is captain. He is expected to miss the first Test to be at the birth of his child. Fair enough. But it’s all very undercard isn’t it?
Their squad has undergone something of an overhaul, too. Stephen Cook, the opener, Wayne Parnell, the all-rounder and Dane Piedt, the spinner have all been dropped. In come Heino Kuhn, Aiden Markam and Andile Phehlukwayo.
At least they can count on Hashim Amla, Quinton De Kock, JP Duminy and Morne Morkel as experienced, classy hands. Kagiso Rabada is the coming force in the pace world.
Of course England will have gun players available, too. But given the revolving door which both teams seem intent on hurtling through, one begins to get itchy feet about short prices about England. It is early days in our punting preparation but the Saffers could be a spot of value.