Opinion: Key Players: South Africa vs England

South Africa and England resume their great rivalry on Boxing Day at Kingsmead.

Both teams are coming home from series losses in the subcontinent and will certainly feel more comfortable in "friendlier" conditions in South Africa.

The series is packed with match winners on either side; and we've picked out three players in each team who we think will play a crucial role if their team is to be successful.

ALASTAIR COOK

Tests: 122

Runs: 9780

Average: 47.47

2015 runs: 1357 at 59

After a long struggle with form, 'Captain Cook' came back with a bang in 2015, notching up three centuries this year including a mammoth 263 against Pakistan. He also captained a relatively young English side to Ashes glory and must feel real vindication after doubts about his leadership earlier in the year. Cook has already scored a century on tour against South Africa 'A' and looks set for a big upcoming series.

JOE ROOT

Tests: 35

Runs: 3020

Average: 54.90

2015 runs: 1288 at 61.33

Root is another player who had a great year. He has been England's most consistent batsman for an extended period and his status as the second-best test batsman in world cricket is justified. The batsman also picked up a century against South Africa 'A', and his form in the middle order will be crucial if England are to have any success in this series. He is set to become one of England's best ever batsmen - that's if he continues being the 'rock' in the middle order.

BEN STOKES

Tests: 19

Runs: 972

Wickets: 45

2015 runs: 693 at 30.13

2015 wickets: 23 at 47.65

Stokes has been a revelation since returning to the international fold. His contribution with bat and ball as well as his sublime fielding has added much-needed energy into the England side. His century at Lord's against New Zealand was the fastest ton ever at the home of cricket; while his bowling against Australia, where he captured career best figures of 6/36, shows just how much he has to offer with his pace and seam movement. Stokes will seek more consistency in this series as he looks to cement himself as one of the world's premier all-rounders.

HASHIM AMLA

Tests: 88

Runs: 6888

Average: 50.64

2015 runs: 232 at 25.77

Skipper Amla endured a barren spell in 2015; not seen perhaps since the start of his international career. However, nobody seems to doubt that the stylish right-hander will come good and in a series as big as England. He will no doubt be looking cash in. He does love playing against the English, recording his highest test score of 311* against them. Amla showed some fighting spirit in the latter stages of the Indian tour but will now look to convert that application at the crease into some runs.

AB DE VILLIERS

Tests: 102

Runs: 7864

Average: 51.39

2015 runs: 406 at 50.75

De Villiers is the shining light of South African cricket and seemingly the darling of world cricket. When his fellow countrymen looked at sea in India, he was the only batsman who was at ease with the conditions. He will keep wicket in this series but knowing how adaptable the mercurial batsmen is, it should not affect his performance with the willow. The Proteas have to discontinue their reliance on de Villiers; however his performances will have a big say in the outcome of the series.

DALE STEYN

Tests: 81

Wickets: 402

Average: 22.56

2015 wickets: 13 at 22.38

South Africa's premier fast bowler Steyn has been passed as fit for first test after missing the bulk of the Indian series. This comes as a welcome boost for the Proteas, who have missed not only his skill but presence in the team. The number one test bowler in the world will be fresh and hungry to get at the English after a spell out of the team. Conditions in South Africa will suit the quick bowlers more, therefore the Proteas need their inspirational fast bowler to fire and add to his 25 five wicket hauls.

Carl Lewis is a reporter for EWN Sport based in Cape Town. Follow him @Carl_LewisZA