England, with a series win already secured, can complete South Africa’s ignominious fall from the top of the rankings when the final Test of the four-match series starts at Centurion Park in Pretoria on Friday.
Dominant England went 2-0 up after Stuart Broad’s venemous spell set the platform for an emphatic win in the third Test in Johannesburg.
In contrast their hosts, about to lose top place in the International Cricket Council rankings to India, are in a state of disarray, having switched captains mid-series and extended a winless streak to nine Tests.
The absence of injured key fast bowler Dale Steyn has not helped and he will again not play in the fourth Test, having only contributed for just a single innings at the start of the series in Durban last month.
The likes of Broad, Joe Root and Ben Stokes have all displayed match-winning brilliance for England in this series.
“The future of this team could turn into something special,” said coach Trevor Bayliss in the wake of the seven-wicket win at the Wanderers.
A shell-shocked South Africa are set to hand a debut to 33-year-old opener Stephen Cook as they attempt to solve one of several problems in a side that last won a Test more than a year ago.
New captain AB de Villiers had promised an aggressive and “in your face” approach for his first game in charge after replacing Hashim Amla but watched his team meekly fold as they were skittled out for a paltry 83 runs in their second innings in Johannesburg to be beaten inside three days.
The obvious lack of confidence is exacerbated by uncertainty over De Villiers’ own future in the Test arena as he seeks to lessen his workload to continue playing all formats of the international game.
South Africa can only point to past statistics for a glimmer of sunshine.
Centurion Park has been their most successful home venue since it hosted its first Test 20 years ago. South Africa have won 15 times, drawn three and lost only to England in 2000 and Australia in 2014 in 20 previous tests at the ground.
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