SA at ease despite short build-up
South Africa's batting line-up will have the equivalent of little more than two days of cricket before the first Test at The Oval next week. Wet weather has dampened their preparations for the series, which they need to win to earn the No.1 ranking, but the team management remain confident that the players will be ready.
"I think even if we were here for a month, we'd still struggle to get in a lot of preparation time," Russell Domingo, the assistant coach said. "We knew this was going to happen but guys were saying, 'We are mentally ready to play,' after our camp in Switzerland."
When rain ended the second day's play of the tour match in Kent after 22 overs, the South Africans had faced only 35 overs in the match to added to the 76.3 overs they had in Taunton. Even if they manage a full day in the middle on Sunday it will be little more than 200 overs before facing James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Some of those who have made it to the crease have not made full use of their opportunities either. Graeme Smith made 21 to follow the 10 he scored against Somerset, and has faced 57 deliveries across the two innings, while Alvrio Petersen, who missed the first warm-up match with a foot injury, also fell for 21 against Kent. Before this tour started Smith had not batted in a competitive situation since March, as he spent the off-season recovering from ankle surgery. Petersen at least has his stint in the County Championship with Essex to fall back on.
These two men will face the first wave of attack from the English bowlers, who have all played over the last fortnight albeit in the one-day format, but Domingo was unconcerned about their lack of crease time. "There is just something about England and the way Graeme hits the ball in the nets, he really looks in good technical shape," Domingo said. "Alviro has got two hundreds from his last four Test so he will take a lot of confidence from that. He batted for quite long in this innings and that's as much as we could have hoped for."
Apart from Hashim Amla, who scored a half-century against Somerset and is undefeated on 36 in this match, South Africa's middle order is also short of practice. Importantly though, JP Duminy, who is expected to come in at No.7 in the first Test after Mark Boucher withdrawal scored 53 in Taunton and looked comfortable against the short ball and spin - two types of bowling he has struggled against in the past - albeit against bowling of lower quality than he will face next week.
Duminy's second coming as a Test player was completed with his century in Wellington, earning him a place in the squad to play England ahead of Ashwell Prince, and Domingo believes the depth he brings will be important. "Having JP in the side is a good boost," he said. "He adds a lot of depth and a lot of stability to our middle order which could be important considering how easily conditions change in England. With the ball swinging around and teams likely to lose two or three wickets in a cluster, depth in batting order is going to be very important."
Although Domingo would not confirm a Test XI, the team that South Africa are using in Kent is expected to be the same as the one they will field in the first Test. If that is the case specialist wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile, who replaced Boucher, will be on the sidelines bu Domingo said the team management have been transparent with Tsolekile as possible.
"Initially when the squad was selected, Boucher was first-choice and AB de Villiers was the back-up keeper so that is the order of procession," Domingo said. "I think Thami is very comfortable knowing that he is probably back up to AB for his Test series. He probably expected that before he got here and I think he knows where he stands. It's important for players to know where they stand."
De Villiers has accepted the role of gloveman but admitted that he will have to monitor the state of his back. At the 2011 World Cup, he could not keep in five of South Africa's seven matches but has since done the job in limited-overs cricket.
South Africa's bowlers have had two decent run outs so far and key players showed important improvements against Kent. Morne Morkel recovered from a poor showing in Taunton with a much more disciplined performance, taking 3 for 49 in 18 overs, and of particular interest was Imran Tahir's bowling against the tail on the opening day.
He picked up four wickets, which Domingo said reward for all the efforts Tahir has put in during training. "It's refreshing seeing that type of spin bowler as an option for South Africa," he said. "Graeme is learning how to deal with him, when to bowl him and who to bowl him to."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent