One of the big problems with having a huge sporting summer is that it cam be easy to miss certain significant events. The Tour de France, The Open and this summer’s international Cricket schedule already look to be part of a background dominated by Euro 2012, Andy Murray’s exploits at Wimbledon and the impending Olympics - not to mention the black hole that is Scottish football caused by the collapsing star that was Rangers. Which is a shame as England take on South Africa in their biggest test series since… well last years test series against India. Quite why this crucial series is only a three test series is beyond anyone. Why the series starts at The Oval (rather than being reserved for it's traditional series closer) can be put squarely at the Olympic Archery being held at Lords.
|Graeme Smith on his way to his series clinching 154* at Edgebaston in 2008|
England are aiming to hold on to their number one test status which they gained with that 4-0 series whitewash over India. South Africa as always are perennial challengers to the number one ranking, and are now in prime position to take over that spot with a repeat of their 2-1 series win four years ago. Unlike India though, South Africa do have a potent pace attack and will be a better all round side than India.
Like India, South Africa have a very strong Batting line up. Leading from the front will be Graeme Smith, on his third tour of England and looking to keep his unbeaten record after the series win four years ago and a 2-2 draw 9 years ago in his first tour here both as a player and as a captain. He scored two double ton’s here 9 years ago and his 154* at Edgebaston four years ago clinched South Africa’s first test series win in England since 1965. Opening with Smith should be Alviro Pieterson. Batting at three will be Hashim Amla who currently averages 46.98 with the bat, while coming in at four should be the highly experienced Jacques Kallis.
Kallis is on his fourth, and probably final, tour of England. He averages 56.78 with the bat. Yet he has a poor average in England and only has one hundred to his name in England (132 in the Old Trafford Test of 1998). Also part of the South African line up will be AB De Villiers, who after the untimely retirement of Mark Boucher will be taking over wicketkeeping duties. The fact that Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers are currently ranked in the top ten batsmen list tells you of the task awaiting England. However, it is South Africa’s pace attack which England should be wary of as the tourists have brought their best attack since their 1998 tour.
Dale Steyn is currently rated the best bowler according to those Test rankings, while first change bowler Morne Morkel is at number ten. Yet the most dangerous of South Africa’s bowlers could be Vernon Philander. In seven tests, he has taken 51 test wickets (the second fastest to the 50 wicket mark). Rather than pace, his forte is more very accurate line and length bowling with a knack of sharp seam movement either way.
You would think that South Africa start as firm favorites to win this series. In truth, it will be very nip and tuck between the two sides. South Africa start as marginal favorites, only because England have not hit the heights of 2011 just yet. They will have to as this is a series that may well be decided by one session in one of the three tests, starting at The Oval tomorrow, a ground where South Africa have never won. It could be that close.