South Africa in England 2012 July 8, 2012

Smith ready for toughest England test

Two stable, well-drilled teams will meet to decide the No. 1 Test ranking - and Graeme Smith doesn't expect his opposite number to quit this time
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If history repeats itself for Graeme Smith on this England tour he will score a big hundred when it matters, lead a competitive team through an exciting, close-fought contest and the opposition captain will resign. While Smith is hoping for the first, saying that England tends to "bring the best out of me", and certain of the second, he is doubtful about the third - because of the current strength of the hosts.

"This is probably a better England team than they've had for a long time," Smith told ESPNcricinfo. "They've had some great teams and players but they seem to be a very professional unit so that makes it even tougher for us now."

That may mean that Andrew Strauss, who began the English summer under some pressure before scoring back-to-back hundred against West Indies, does not suffer the same fate as two of his predecessors. Nasser Hussain stepped down as England captain during the 2-2 draw of 2003, while Michael Vaughan, who replaced Hussain, tearfully announced his resignation in 2008 after Smith had led South Africa to their first series win in England since 1965.

Discussing the current England side, the words "well-drilled", "well-planned" and "methodical" have been used by Smith and the coach, Gary Kirsten. What it really means is that, under Andy Flower, England have put structures in place which South Africa's management thinks can match their own. That's why when you hear both captain and coach talk about either themselves or their opposition, they use the same phrases to describe both. "There's a lot of stability in their team now," Kirsten said of England. He said exactly that about the current South Africa unit.

England's strength comes in two waves, according to Smith. There is their ability to exploit their own conditions and also the buoyancy provided by home support. "They are a nation that plays very well at home," Smith said. "The ball swings and they adapt to the grounds well. Another factor is the crowds. The crowds are very vocal and really get behind them and that adds a lot to their team in terms of the way they play. I've felt bowlers have found an extra 20% in terms of energy or pace or ability with the crowds."

For touring teams, playing in England requires more adjustment than normal. Smith isolated three factors: the ball, the weather and the unrelenting pressure. "The Dukes ball reacts a little differently," Smith said. "Weather plays a part there as well. We're fortunate that we've always got the second half of the season where it's generally drier and a bit warmer. And then, mentally, there are a lot of things that come your way. At least, we've got guys who have experienced that before."

This time may be a little different on the last two counts. The Dukes ball will still be in action, staying harder, retaining its shine and moving around a lot more but England have experienced one of the wettest summers in recent memory, resulting in slower pitches. Although conditions are forecast to get better, South Africa saw the rain first hand on their arrival in Somerset. Additionally, South Africa have focused on the mental side of their game, with a training camp in Switzerland that tested their mettle against the Alps and raging rivers.

It was all done in a bid to be able to combat the "constant pressure over a period of time", which Smith said is unique to an England tour. "You know it's going to be tough. You know it's a place where you have to be at your best to win."

Kirsten believes the difference will come from whichever side is strong enough to prise an advantage, however small, and who can seize the important moments best. "We're doing our homework," he said. "If there are any areas we can exploit we're certainly going to punch right in there. That's what happens when you are playing quality opposition."

What may actually be the difference between the teams is their respective strength in adaptation. England have not lost a Test series at home since 2008, when they were beaten by South Africa. By contrast, South Africa have not lost on tour since 2006, when they were defeated in Sri Lanka. "We just have to adapt," Smith said. "The strength of the squad plays a crucial role because there are a lot of games in between Test matches. You really need to get the team to come together and be supremely focused. It's not going to be easy. To win this time, will be a real feather in the cap for this team."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 5wombats on July 10, 2012, 19:15 GMT

    @richiej94. The teams are evenly matched on paper. But cricket isn't played on paper. At this level and with such evenly matched teams - the difference will be be not who has the physical skills, rather - the team which has the extra mental strength will win.

  • richiej94 on July 10, 2012, 12:28 GMT

    @5wombats I wouldn't get too ahead of yourself just yet, England are number 1, and deservedly so. But, I wouldnt write off a side with players like Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Smith, Amla, de Villiers and Kallis. If Steyn, Philander and Morkel (both proven performers in England) fire early and get to Englands vulnerable number 6 spot, things could be over very quickly. In saying that, Anderson, Broad and Bresnan or whoever they pick as the 3rd seemer are just as capable of running through SA. Both Line ups are very evenly matched, but this series will be won with the ball. The two best pace attacks in world cricket going head to head..

    Also responding to your comment "They had it easy last time." Whether they had it easy last time is irrelevant, whilst England were weaker, they still had to go and win there. Australia were weaker when you beat us out here in the last Ashes, but you still had to come out and beat us. Dont count your chickens too early!!

  • 5wombats on July 10, 2012, 7:59 GMT

    Everyone says they are ready, and everyone leaves here empty-handed. He's kidding himself. Just because Smith was the only captain to leave here with a Test series win in the last 5 years doesn't mean he's going to repeat that feat this time. England in 2012 are a very different kettle of fish to the 2008 version. That chat about the England captains is ridiculous - Hussain retired from Tests because he saw the way Strauss had played and Nas didn't want to hang around and keep Strauss out of the team. That's the truth - we remember him walking off at the end of his last England Innings. As for Vaughan - he was injured and that actually ended his career, not Smith (although plenty of nay-sayers want to believe otherwise...). This series is going to come as a shock to the South Africans (and the nay-sayers). They had it easy last time.

  • StatisticsRocks on July 9, 2012, 19:39 GMT

    IMO: Eng will win this series as they are very tough to beat in their own backyard.

  • pom_don on July 9, 2012, 13:56 GMT

    @Jester01 'England will be tough to beat at home' well I hope so but SA should be well used to the conditions as ten of the players in the warm up against Somerset all play in the UK so if England do win not being used to our conditions will not be an excuse.

  • Charlie101 on July 9, 2012, 13:46 GMT

    @AKS286 I hope Ravi Bopara has secured his place at number 6 with his fine performance in the ODIs V OZ . The best 2 bowling attacks in the world are on show so which ever side can score decent runs in the 1st innings will win. Would settle now for 1 -0 to England.

  • landl47 on July 9, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    Perhaps this time the boot will be on the other foot and it will be Smith who resigns? He's already been close to it and one bad series will put him over the top. I believe he personally is going to have a lot of problems with the ball swinging across him to the slips; he bats with a very closed face and Anderson swinging the ball away is going to test him to the utmost. The last 4 series have resulted in one series each with two drawn series. The difference might be that SA has more stars but less depth and Kallis is getting to the end of his career. He's great when he gets in, but he can be had early as the series against SL and NZ showed. I like England slightly, but SA has players capable of turning the game on their own so nothing is for certain. I just wish there were more tests- the short series definitely favors SA and it would be very sad to see even one test ruined by the weather; that could wreck the whole series.

  • AKS286 on July 9, 2012, 10:59 GMT

    eng problem is the replacement of bairstow & SA problem is a spinner. lets watch who is tough enough Deadly barrage or Eng's fortress.

  • Jester01 on July 9, 2012, 10:51 GMT

    England will be tough to beat at home. I think it will be a good contest, if the weather stays away. If only SA had replaced Boucher with Faf du Plessis\Dean Elgar... But anyway goodluck to both teams, may the best team win. Go Proteas!

  • Carpathian on July 9, 2012, 7:30 GMT

    @Athol SA beat who at home? England drew there last time. Just like Australia did.

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