Is This the Toughest Series to Call Ever? Or am I a Huge Sissy for Sitting On The Fence?
left: Luke Wright could be the man to make his debut as England might look to play their usual 5 pronged pace attack
England: Experienced a remarkable turnaround for a side that in January – it seems like a lot longer ago than that – lost its coach and captain on the same day. Huge props has to go to Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss for gelling a side together which would seal the Ashes in their last outing at the Oval. Their one day form is nothing short of astonishing (still inconsistent granted) as they seem to have adopted a completely new mantra of aggression with the bat. This must bode well for their test side too.
South Africa: Have forgotten how to play test cricket. Ok that’s a lie. But they haven’t played a test since March so might be forgiven for being a tiny bit rusty. Yet you don’t have to look very far back and they were number 1 ranked in the world. Their inactivity meant they were a king unable to defend their crown. It was only a year ago they beat Australia in their own backyard and they won’t be taking England lightly. Although their one day form has faltered with a poor Champions Trophy showing you’d have to say they edge the battle on paper.
The captains share a couple of similarities with each other – 1) they’re both left-handed opening bats who lead from the front and 2) they are currently their sides’ most likely chance of being leading runscorer for the series. But that’s where the similarities end.
England: Andrew Strauss is a man of few words. He’s happy to let his runs do the talking whilst taking a more reserved approach to his captaincy. Quiet intent and not getting into early mind games are the order of the day for the England captain.
“Leading up to this Test, both sides have had 10 days or so twiddling their thumbs and waiting for tomorrow to come about,” Strauss said. “There will be 22 players pretty keen to make their mark early in the series and as is often the case the first day and first session can have a big bearing on where the series goes. We all know you aren’t going to win a Test in the first session, but you can grab the momentum in the match.”
“The post-Ashes glow went in that one-day series against Australia to be honest,” he said. “I think we are all eager to return to Test cricket, it allows us to reconnect with what happened in the Ashes and think about what went well and what didn’t. That’s a healthy thing for us, but it’s a very different set of circumstances. We can’t afford to look back too much.”
For the complete interview click here
South Africa: Graeme Smith, as shy and retiring as ever, on the contrary likes to do a bit of shit-stirring and this occasion is no different. The South African captain, the shrinking violet that he is, is keen to suggest that it’s England who have all the questions to answer as they look to restore balance to a side with a Freddie Flintoff shaped void, a problem exacerbated by the glaring omission of Steve Harmison.
“They’ve picked quite a conservative attack,” Smith says. “They’ve gone for steady bowlers but they haven’t picked a [Steve] Harmison who can offer pace and bounce. Over five days in a Test there are times you need variety and how are they going to find that?”
He also has something to say about England’s South African contingent (excerpts from the Guardian)…
“Jonathan’s one of the most talented guys we ever produced,” Smith says. “Having played with him I’ve always known that. Trotty’s biggest thing has always been his head and getting his life organised. He said getting married has helped him a lot. A lot of our guys are close to him, as we grew up with him, but it’s our job to create those insecurities in his game again. On the field he’s part of England now, but I’m sure our guys will catch up with him for a beer or a dinner.”
Smith will not seek out a similar social engagement with Pietersen. “I wouldn’t say it’s a priority of mine to have Kevin as a friend,” Smith grins, acknowledging their past hostility and that Pietersen once described him as “an absolute muppet”.
“He’s very different to me. He comes across as a loner – I’ve noticed that about him. But he’s a world-class player and I think he’ll be an important cog in this series, because he’s always up for playing against South Africa. There’s some mutual respect now but I don’t think we’ll ever be friends.”
England: As much as England would love a repeat performance from their skipper in this series they’ll also hope that the other batsmen can get a foothold in the games and take it to their South African opponents as well. Jonathan Trott’s assured debut and the return of KP attempting to silence all the boo boys once more should make England’s shaky middle order a bit more solid. As Smithy rightly pointed out Flintoff’s departure might leave them a batsmen short.
South Africa: On paper, an absolutely incredible batting lineup – Smith, Prince, Kallis, Amla, De Villiers, Duminy not to even mention Morkel and Boucher is a daunting prospect. Yet they can face the same accusations as England in over-relying on the blade of their captain. It will be interesting to keep track of the curious case of one JP Duminy and AB De Villiers as they continue to vie it out for the prize of the SA fastest rising star.
England: Will we miss Steve Harmison and Freddie? Do we have enough pace and bounce? Surely we have to play 5 front line bowlers. There is no doubt a distinct lack of depth in England’s bowling department. Although Ryan Sidebottom did give us a timely reminder of what he can be capable of in the warm up match just this week. Let’s hope Broad can pick up where he left off, Swanny delivers and we don’t rely to heavily on Mr Anderson to spearhead the attack.
South Africa: Huge question marks hang over the South Africans bowling lineup as with England. Jacques Kallis will need some match practice before delivering too many overs. Whilst they might put to much pressure on Dale Steyn to deliver they will be boosted by one Makayha Ntini who will register his 100th cap in the series.
England: Apparent injury concerns for Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann have been overcome so England have a full strength squad to select from. The biggest talking point as Smithy kindly mentioned is the balance of the England team. But question marks remain as to whether Luke Wright should be selected as the logical replacement to take the all-rounder berth. The thing is he’s not really made a case for himself in which you can see him standing in either department as a test bowler or batsmen. Nevertheless he’s an immense talent that needs games to achieve his potential. If this is the way England go – which I strongly advocate – then it will be Ian Bell the unlucky man to miss out.
South Africa: With Kallis being passed fit the Saffers have natural balance to their side as always. How great is it to have such a player in your side? So a four pronged attack with Kallis to roll his arm over if required is what’s in store.
I really don’t want to tempt fate on this one as so many England cricket fans have been burned in the past. On paper you have to say South Africa have the stronger lineup and are the better team. Having said that, England appear to have the momentum and are a team with intent. Freddie Flintoff said England can go on to bigger things after the Ashes and it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
If you held a gun against by head I’d still tell you it was too close to call. But then after that I’d say England will emerge triumphant; a margin greater than one is extremely unlikely.
England Player to Watch: Jonathan Trott (does anything phase him?)
South Africa Player to Watch: JP Duminy (is there a more graceful player in the game?)
Player of the Series: Andrew Strauss
What do you think will happen??
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