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Root puts fresh spin on new England era

Liam Dawson's first-Test inclusion means new captain Joe Root will lead an England side featuring two spinners in a Lord's Test for the first time since 1993

Joe Root, the new England captain, has confirmed that spinner Liam Dawson will play in the first Test against South Africa at Lord's starting Thursday.

With England having selected a 12-man squad, it means that, for the second year in a row, uncapped paceman Toby Roland-Jones has missed out on the chance of making a Test debut at his Middlesex home ground.

This match will be Hampshire left-armer Dawson's first Test on home soil after he made a debut against India at Chennai in December.

In a high-scoring debut Test, Dawson made an unbeaten 66 in his first knock, before taking 2-129 in 43 overs as the home side racked up 7dec-759. In his second innings he fell for a duck as England crashed to a heavy defeat en route to a series whitewash.

His inclusion means that England will field two spinners - off-break bowler Moeen Ali and Dawson - in a Lord's Test for the first time since 1993.

Liam Dawson will play his first Test on home soil at Lord's // Getty
Liam Dawson will play his first Test on home soil at Lord's // Getty

Root also confirmed Wednesday that his recalled Yorkshire colleague Gary Ballance would bat at three, with the skipper himself in at four and their fellow county teammate Jonny Bairstow, the wicket-keeper, in at No.5.

Root was appointed in February after Alastair Cook, still in the team purely as an opening batsman, stood down but this week's match will be England's first Test since the change of skipper.

England will hope the captaincy drives the 26-year-old Yorkshireman on to even greater heights as it has done for two fellow star batters: Australia's Steve Smith and India's Virat Kohli.

"The way Rooty goes about his cricket, he's nice and positive the way he bats, I suspect the way he will captain the team will be similar," said England's Australian coach Trevor Bayliss last week.

South Africa ended the Test captaincy of several England skippers in Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss.

A similar fate, however, is unlikely to befall Root, whatever the outcome of a four-match series, ahead of this year's Ashes campaign in Australia.

The immediate task for Root is to return England to winning ways in Tests after eight defeats in a 2016 that ended with a 4-0 series loss in India.

South Africa boast a remarkable record of having lost only one away Test series in 10 years.

They have been without AB de Villiers in Test cricket for more than 12 months and the talented batsman will miss the whole of this series as he considers his international future.

South Africa too will have a new captain in Dean Elgar but regular skipper Faf du Plessis is expected back for the second Test at Nottingham following the birth of his first child.

"He is a gutsy player," South Africa coach Russell Domingo said of opening batsman Elgar.

"He epitomises South African cricket to the tee."

The Proteas had a difficult start to this tour, losing to England in both one-day and Twenty20 series either side of a first-round exit at the Champions Trophy.

Meanwhile Domingo, who has confirmed he will re-apply for his job as required by South Africa officials, had to return home briefly after his mother was involved in a traffic accident.

But despite the absence of injured fast bowler Dale Steyn, South Africa - 2-0 winners in England five years ago - boast an impressive pace attack.

Morne Morkel is renowned for how well he bowls to left-handers (England will have several in their top order) and Vernon Philander is a proven performer in English conditions while Kagiso Rababa is a rising star.

"He's a phenomenal talent," said Philander of Rabada, whose 17 Tests have already yielded 71 wickets.

South Africa are set to give a debut to Heino Kuhn, the latest opener trying to fill the void left by retired former captain Graeme Smith.

Top-order batting is set to be a key area, with Hashim Amla - who made South Africa's record Test score of 311 not out at The Oval in 2012 - a central figure.

Now there are fears the 34-year-old may not be the player he was, with South Africa batting great Barry Richards saying last week: "One of the key parts of the series is Hashim Amla versus the fast bowlers and Hashim Amla versus himself."

England: Cook, Jennings, Ballance, Root (c), Bairstow (wk), Stokes, Moeen, Dawson, Broad, Wood, Anderson

South Africa (probable): Dean Elgar (c), Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel