Weather will be key in Eng-SA duel
As expected the weather is busy turning in the UK. The sun has come out and the pitches are drying up. This changes the way the series between South Africa and England will be played tactically quite radically.
One can never tell with the UK weather but if the conditions stay hot and dry from now on it puts a different perspective on the strategy required to win this all important series.
Both teams have good batting lineups and if the surfaces that the test matches are played on is devoid of moisture the first innings in each test match will be crucial. Batting first after winning the toss will be the order of the day. The team batting first will be intent on piling on the runs and batting for a day and a half in the first innings.
On dry English surfaces there won't be a lot of seam movement and the fast bowlers will have to work hard for their wickets initially. They will come into the game strongly with the older ball though; particularly the likes of Dale Steyn and James Anderson who reverse swing the ball. The test series will be played with the Duke ball.
This particular ball is different to the Kookaburra used in South Africa and in other countries like Australia. The Duke is made specifically for English conditions. It has a bigger and more compact seam and lends itself to reverse swing when one side of the ball gets scuffed up.
England have become good exponents of reverse swing. They see it as a real strength at home. Sometimes the surfaces there become abrasive quite quickly and reverse swing comes into the equation pretty early. I am sure the South African coaching staff has got this well in hand and will prepare the bowlers to achieve reverse swing themselves and the batsman to deal with this threat effectively.
The other concern is the spin department. Dry pitches will bring Graeme Swann into the game. He is a force and has given some of the South African top-order batsman problems in the past. His duel with Imran Tahir will take on bigger significance under drier conditions. During the first innings the spinner will have to play a containing role under these circumstances. In the second innings, when the ball starts to spin, it will be a real duel for supremacy between the finger spinner and the wrist spinner.
This test series will be a real pressure cooker. Not much can be read into the current series between England and a very weak West Indies team. The current West Indian side have a problem creating pressure and an even bigger problem absorbing pressure. Both England and South Africa have been good in these respects which makes the prospect of the coming series fascinating.
The two teams are brim-full of proven international game breakers who have turned it on under pressure against good opposition in the past. In days gone by England were a nice team to play against. At times they haven't been mentally strong and displayed a soft under belly. Along with the edge that has come into the domestic game in division one on the county circuit Andy Flower has developed a much tougher team in every respect.
The Proteas are pretty tough in most departments as well, so we will see some good individual clashes as well as some fierce collective competition.
Hopefully England won't be the better prepared team. The start of an important series like this sometimes sets the tone for the whole series and has a big bearing on the final outcome. In a perfect world the Proteas needed a couple of tests now as well in preparation for this one. A couple of county games, however, will have to do. Fortunately most of the Protea players have the experience and class to switch to the high gear they will need straight away.
Not long to wait now for the real thing to get under way.