Can't wait for the battle
As the much anticipated and potentially mouthwatering clash for the number one position on the test match rankings table approaches, one can’t help but try to compare the two champion teams about to enter into battle. Both England and South Africa are top notch cricket teams that are filled with stars and game breakers.
The last time these two colossuses met it was South Africa who achieved what they had not done before, which was to win on English soil against their old foe. The exchanges were fitting of a hard-fought heavyweight bout and it was a close run affair. Both England and South Africa had magnificent performances from many of their players and all would have felt that they contributed somewhat to their team’s success.
I keep asking myself; what will be different this time, who will prevail and why? The change in personnel has not been particularly drastic for the Proteas with Alviro Petersen in for Neil McKenzie, Jacques Rudolph for Ashwell Prince, Imran Tahir for Paul Harris and Vernon Philander in for Makhaya Ntini. I do recall, however, that Dale Steyn only played in the one test match in that series...there will be a great effort to ensure he stays on the park as he has undoubtedly become South Africa’s leading fast bowler since then.
The players that enter the fray have been successful in the English County system and that will go a long way to helping the adjustment to the conditions, it will not be totally foreign territory for any of the members of the squad.
England have evolved into a much better team since back then too and while they were difficult to conquer in their backyard at that time, they have got even better as a unit and so the task ahead of the Proteas is a mammoth one.
Michael Vaughan resigned the captaincy after going down in the series in 2008; Jonathan Trott, who is a fantastic player, has since cemented the number three spot with Matthew Prior also churning out runs as the team’s wicketkeeper.
The England bowling department is certainly most impressive. They possess great depth in fast bowling stocks. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn, Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett and Graeme Onions are more than what England can use in their team so there will be sufficient cover if those that are selected break down at any point. Add to that Graeme Swann, who is now their number one spinner and the English have reason to be confident.
Still, I believe that the team that wins the series will need things to go its way too. The weather in England will need to come to the party if we are to witness what is a great match-up and a face-off for the number one position.
Two men who will play very important roles in determining which way things go will be Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith as their strategies will be scrutinised by the many who are sure to watch the drama keenly. They say a captain is only as good as his players, but with such great players on either side, the play moves to the skipper as he must use his brilliant resources to great effect.
The build-up to the series suggests that England have a slight advantage as they are well into their season and so go into the series nicely warmed up while South Africa come from an off season and time of rest for their players. There is also the important issue of home advantage, which has worked to good effect for England...they do not lose many series at home.
That South Africa managed to triumph over their old foe in 2008 was a great achievement, which was much celebrated by the whole squad, to repeat it would be just amazing. A Chinese Proverb says: “There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view is always the same.” They cannot dwell on what happened back then, but must look ahead and try to climb that very steep mountain once again.
The dampener as we all wait for this battle to commence is that there shall only be three possible test matches for us to savour, one less than back in 2008. It makes it imperative for either team to start well as a slip-up may well be impossible to come back from.
It would be remiss of me not to make a prediction; I reckon one test apiece with the other rain affected and drawn...a real pity there isn’t a fourth.