Proteas ready for England showdown
9 July 2012
After England took a 3-0 lead in their one-day international series against Australia on Saturday, the Aussies' South African-born coach Mickey Arthur said his side had been bullied by the hosts. His comment underlines the size of the challenge the Proteas will face on their tour of England.
The Proteas' first match, a two-day practice outing against Somerset, began on Monday. Ahead lie three tests, five one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals.
Captain Graeme Smith, before his team's departure for England, set a goal of a test series victory over the English, which would lift South Africa above their opponents to number one in the International Cricket Council's test rankings.
Enviable away record
South Africa will take an enviable away record into the showdown. They haven't lost a test series away from home since 2006 and, very impressively, they have won 12 of their 22 tests on the road.
The last time they toured England, in 2008, the Proteas lifted the Basil D'Oliviera Trophy after a two-one series victory; after a draw in the first test, South Africa won the second test by 10 wickets, the third by five wickets, and lost the fourth test by six wickets.
"We have come here with a degree of quiet confidence," Smith said in a statement. "We have performed well away from home for a period of time and we have that strength and confidence within the squad to know that we can perform well away from home.
"Having had success here in 2008, we're hoping to build on that and taste that again, but in saying that, England is a quality team and throughout the years of touring here it has always been difficult to beat England.
'A lot of respect'
"We have a lot of respect for the conditions here, the crowd and the England cricket team," Smith added.
Many of the players who starred for South Africa four years ago will be crucial players in the forthcoming series.
AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith headed the averages and were South Africa's leading run scorers. De Villiers' 174 in the second test was key to the Proteas' victory in that contest, while Smith's sensational 154 not out in the third test took South Africa to the series victory.
One man who had a poor tour with the bat, tallying only 104 runs at 14.85, Jacques Kallis, will want to make amends this time around.
The 36-year-old all-rounder continues to perform at the very highest level and has become the fourth highest run scorer in the history of test cricket. His 42 test hundreds is second only to Sachin Tendulkar, and no player who has scored more than 10 000 runs has a better average than his 56.78.
However, many experts believe the outcome of the series will be decided by the teams' bowling attacks, which are rated as the two best in test cricket.
Kallis, with 276 test victims to his name, will have a role to play there, but Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander should have a greater say in how the South African attack performs. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir, in an effort to find his best form, has been training under Pakistan great Imran Qadir.
England will counter with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, who like the South African trio are all ranked in the top 10 in the world. Tim Bresnan, at 14, and Steve Finn, at 24, prove that the English have excellent depth.
If batting depth should decide the series, then it appears that South Africa possesses a slight advantage over England, with AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith all ranked inside the top 10.
England have only Alistair Cook that high in the rankings, but they do have Ian Bell in 14th place, Kevin Pietersen, the top run scorer from the 2008 series, in 17, and another South African-born player, Jonathan Trott, in 18th.
That is why the test series is not only a showdown that is being eagerly awaited by fans of the two teams, but also by cricket lovers the world over.
Smith said his team is ready for the challenge that lies ahead. "Our training camp in Switzerland was both mentally and physically tough and we have come here to focus on getting ourselves cricket ready for the [first test on] 19th (of July)."
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