Battle for No.1 spot commences
Having won back to back series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, a confident South African side will be gunning for the No.1 Test ranking when they take on England in a three-match series, first of which starts at the Oval.
South Africa have been in ominous form in the Test arena having gone unbeaten in their last 8 series. They now face a rampant England side that has been in breathtaking form of late. The long tour commences with three Tests followed by 5 ODIs and three T20Is. The Proteas have started the tour in a positive fashion having performed well in both the tour matches against Somerset and Kent. Their batsmen looked in good form, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy and Jacques Rudolph scored half-centuries. Their bowlers, however struggled a tad and only leg-spinner Imran Tahir made a significant impact. Graeme Smith will lead the side once again. Apart from being a fantastic leader, he has been in top form having ended as the highest run getter against New Zealand with two half-centuries and a century. He has been prolific against England in England having amassed 1083 runs from 9 matches at a superb average of 72.20. He already has two double hundreds on the English soil.
Alviro Petersen and AB de Villiers too have been in great form in the Test arena. They have a formidable batting line-up consisting of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and Jacques Rudolph. Kallis, whose career average is 56.78, averages just 29.30 in England. He has a great chance to improve upon in a series which might turn out to be probably his last tour to England. Thami Tsolekile has been added to the squad following the retirement of Mark Boucher but there are high chances that de Villiers will don the gloves for the first Test.
Their pace bowling attack will enjoy the swinging English conditions. The fast and the furious, Dale Steyn, will spearhead the pace attack followed by Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. Albie Morkel replaces injured Marchant de Lange in the squad, while Lonwabo Tsotsobe will form a perfect back up in case any of the frontline seamers get injured. The biggest threat for England will be Vernon Philander who has been in breathtaking form with 51 wickets from 7 matches in the last 12 months. He ended up as a top wicket getter in the series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. His accuracy, ability to purchase movement from the surface and swing the ball both ways makes him the man to watch out for. He along with Smith will be the biggest threats for the hosts. But their entire pace battery needs to be on their toes as the English batsmen have been in tremendous form.
England, on the other hand, have bounced back well after the Pakistan carnage in the UAE and have won three of their last four Tests. Skipper Andrew Strauss has shown great resurgence having ended up with a stupendous average of 65 against West Indies. In the ODIs too their batsmen performed splendidly. Ian Bell’s middle order exploits have come handy to the team when in crisis. Jonathan Trott is ever reliable, Kevin Pietersen’s role will be crucial, being a good player of pull and hook shots. One player who deserves to be in the Test side is Ravi Bopara who makes his comeback to the Test side following a wonderful ODI series against the men from Caribbean with the bat and ball. The inclusion of Tim Bresnan has given England room to play with an extra bowler. With a bowling average of 26.09 and a batting average of 40.22, he has been a phenomenal contributor of late.
Their pace bowling unit too has been in breathtaking form led by James Anderson. Steven Finn has impressed with his line and length and he will have to fight with Graham Onions. He has a chance of making it to the starting eleven only if England decide to go in with 6 batsmen and 5 bowlers. They would be highly acclimated to the home conditions having played the last series against West Indies.Bell and Anderson will be the biggest threats for the visitors.
The entire series will be decided by how well the batsmen handle the fiery pace attack of their respective opposition.
South Africa are currently ranked third in the Test rankings. A series win here would propel them to the top of the charts, they would be looking to draw first blood and gain a psychological advantage over the hosts. England, on the other hand, will go all out in their pursuit to save the No.1 spot. A cracker of a contest is definitely on cards.