Stuart Broad has found recent success against the dangerous Hashim Amla    AFP
Stuart Broad has found recent success against the dangerous Hashim Amla AFP

South Africa are comfortably placed at the second spot in the ICC Test rankings. England are at the fourth spot. How much do the rankings matter? This is England s territory. In fact, in 2015-16, England travelled to South Africa and registered a series win. Hashim Amla s captaincy reign came to an end. But do England have territorial advantage? In 2012, South Africa toured there and won the series, post which began the Alastair Cook-era for England. FULL SCORECARD OF 1st TEST

Five years down the line, it is start of the Joe Root era for England. Unpredictability awaits both sides as South Africa too will be led by a new captain Dean Elgar. The South African opener will call shots in the first Test at Lord s in absence of Faf du Plessis. Ahead of the start of the English Test season, let us look at the interesting battles lined-up for the Lord s Test.

Joe Root vs Dean Elgar: Better late than never. Root eventually got his due. After Virat Kohli, Steven Smith and Kane Williamson, it is now Root s turn to take the mantle of the team apart from being the side s best player. Do not expect him to shed-off the prankster cloak yet, but Root has admitted that he will adapt a more serious approach. He as well as the side will look forward to settle down soon under this new guard. As far England are concerned, it is the runs off Root s blade they will hope for the most.

Elgar lacks the Root aura or the ones of his predecessors. His gutsiness makes coach Russell Domingo believe that he is a natural leader. Once Faf is back, Elgar will have to step down, but here is an opportunity for the senior man to make a strong case for himself.

Alastair Cook vs Kagiso Rabada: Just over a month back when Rabada bowled at Lord s the last time, he wreaked havoc in the English camp with a four-for. South Africa managed a consolation victory in the ODI series. As the leader of South Africa s bowling pack, he will look forward to repeat the same with the red ball.

Rabada s quest for ripping apart the English batting will have to begin with sending Cook back. He has already dismissed Cook twice in 3 Tests. This will be a contest to look forward to.

Stuart Broad vs Hashim Amla: Just like the above, this contest holds a lot of interest. When England had travelled to South Africa in 2015-16, Amla was dismissed by Broad four times. However, Amla loves playing in England. He averages 75.7 from his 7 Tests here. Five years back, a few miles away from Lord s, at The Oval, Amla set the tone for South Africa s dominance with a 311 not out still the only triple-hundred by a South Africa.

Broad bowled 34 wicket-less overs in that Test. In the absence of AB de Villiers and Faf, South Africa s batting hopes will rest on Amla. This contest may eventually go on to decide the tone of the series.

Ben Stokes vs Quinton de Kock: These two young exciting left-handers in the middle-order are capable of changing the course of games in a matter of one session. Stokes had slammed a record-breaking double-ton in his last series against South Africa. Meanwhile, de Kock has only grown in reputation since Australia tour last season.

Their roles do not end with explosive batting. Stokes will be England s extra pacer while de Kock s wicketkeeping ability will be severely tested in conditions conducive for swing bowling.