Joe Root believes captain Alastair Cook is the key to England beating South Africa on home turf for the first time in over a decade.
Both batsmen limbered up for the four-Test series by posting impressive centuries on the penultimate day of their warm-up match against South Africa A, and look in good order ahead of the Boxing Day opener.
South Africa, who last lost a home series to England in 2004-05, will hardly have needed a reminder about the pair’s class, with Cook standing as the top Test run-scorer in 2015 and Root sitting second.
Indeed, no England skipper has ever scored more than Cook’s current mark of 1,357 in a calendar year and only two England batsmen - Michael Vaughan and Dennis Amiss - have topped that.
And for Root, runs for Cook equal results for England: “When he scores runs we do well, that’s as simple as it is,” said Root after England ended day two in Pietermaritzburg 243 ahead.
“He leads from the front, he’s had a fantastic year as a batter and as a captain and hopefully he can continue smashing all these records.
“You want him out there as long as you can. I know he’s got a sore back and things like that but it’s what he does, he bats hours on end.”
Root was particularly glad to pass three figures, having done so less frequently than he would have liked in the past 12 months.
After spending much of the year as the world’s number one batsman and scoring hundreds in Test victories at Grenada, Cardiff and Trent Bridge, Root could be forgiven for going easy on himself but instead holds himself to a high standard.
“As a Test cricketer you need to make big scores, definitely it’s been disappointing in that respect,” he said.
“That’s something as a batter you always want to be improving on and taking forward.
“It was nice today to go on and get that hundred. It’s about hundreds, setting games up and making big scores so the guys have runs to play with when it comes to taking 20 wickets.
“It was nice to get some good time out in the middle because I felt my footwork wasn’t quite right for the last week or so.
“Fingers crossed I can take a bit of this confidence forward and we can get off to a good start in the first Test.”
Root was happy to see Alex Hales register a maiden first-class 50 in England colours.
The uncapped Notts batsman will make his Test debut in Durban and was eager to impress having failed twice against modest opponents in Potchefstroom last week.
He did just that by surviving a stern examination at the hands of internationals Marchant De Lange and Chris Morris, only to depart in frustrating fashion by leaving a ball that struck off stump.
“He played extremely well,” said Root. “It took some real skill to get through some tough conditions.
“It was the manner he did it, under pressure in tough conditions where it was seaming and swinging around against a good attack. That will stand him in really good stead.”
* Joe Root talks to Danny Hall in a special feature in The Star on Christmas Eve.