Graham Thorpe remembers Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg as one of the most intimidating grounds he played at but England are hoping they can make South Africa feel the heat if both Jofra Archer and Mark Wood are passed fit for the fourth Test.
It is at ‘the Bullring’ – a venue that historically provides the liveliest pitch in the country as well as generating the most raucous crowds – that England will look to seal a 3-1 series win.
Thorpe averaged 44.66 in his 100-Test career but managed just 52 runs in four innings here against attacks boasting the likes of Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn.
Now, with Kagiso Rabada banned and Lungi Ngidi injured, it is England who hold the whip hand in terms of pace bowling and there might be no better venue in the world for Archer and Wood – both clocked at over 95mph last year – to make their first Test appearance together.
It is by no means a certainty that both men get the green light on Thursday morning, but a rapid spell from Archer in the nets two days out suggests the pain in his right elbow that forced him out of the victories in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is subsiding.
“I do have a few memories of this place, walking down there with people banging on top of the roof coming out to bat ” said Thorpe as he assessed the distinctive steel tunnel that separates the changing room and the playing surface.
“Allan Donald put a few bruises on me on this ground. It’s one of the great cricket grounds of the world, isn’t it? At times, I played here in quite a hostile atmosphere.
“But coming to the Bullring? We look forward to it. It’s a good cricket surface, one which fast bowlers with bounce and carry enjoy. Generally it quickens up as the game goes on and we expect it to have good carry.”
That was certainly in evidence as Archer lit up Wednesday’s low-key practice session with a sustained spell of fiery fast bowling.
Netting a couple of strips along from the match surface, Archer built up serious speed as he hit Jos Buttler on at least three occasions before putting Jonny Bairstow through his paces.
Archer sent down the equivalent of a Test match spell – between six and seven overs at full capacity – and was visibly fitter and stronger than he had been at the equivalent session before the third Test.
Buttler was the only member of the recent playing XI on duty during the workout, with the other 10 taking up the offer of some rest and recovery time given the short three-day turnaround between matches.
Wood needs that more than most and is said to be still feeling some soreness in his side, having bowled 27.5 overs on his first competitive appearance in 11 months. A cautious approach could see Archer swapping with Wood rather than joining him.
“Jofra bowled well and came in with really good rhythm and pace. That’s a place where we want Jof to be,” said Thorpe.
“He looks good and now he will have to come in again tomorrow and back it up. Woody hasn’t played back-to-back Test matches for a while and I know he was a little sore at the end of the Test down in Port Elizabeth, so we’ll see how he is too.
“Hopefully we have a full set to pick from, that would be great.”
Thorpe moved to defend the England set-up’s treatment of Archer over the winter, following critical comments from Kevin Pietersen in a newspaper interview.
Pietersen appeared to suggest Archer had been the victim of leaks from within the camp which reminded him of his own tricky times in international cricket.
“From our perspective on the inside, we’ve felt we managed it well,” said Thorpe.
“We want to look out for Jofra. He’s very important. He’s had eight months in international cricket and has done some amazing things for English cricket already.
“From my point of view and from the coaching staff’s point of view Jofra is an invaluable player in our team. We want him to be fit and firing.”