South Africa eager for battle to commence
South Africa left Canterbury on Sunday at the end of the second warm-up match of their England tour eager for the real thing which will start on Thursday at The Oval. Much has been made of a brief lead-in for the visitors before the battle for No. 1 begins, but by their standards this has been more than they often have on overseas tours.
It has been a vital time for the team with some players coming back from a lengthy off-season. Two eventful days in Taunton, which included Mark Boucher's enforced retirement, overshadowed any cricket that was played and gave the three-day match against Kent the feeling of a fresh start.
They enjoyed a much quieter time and were able to focus more on their game. This time the disruptions came from an area they have no control over with the second day shortened by rain, but two full days allowed their likely first-choice team to find their feet. All the frontline batsmen spent time at the crease, some more than others, and their probable Test attack bowled at least three spells each although not all of them convincingly.
"I can promise you that all the boys just want that first Test to start now," Jacques Rudolph, who scored a half-century in the South African innings, said. "We're well aware we haven't played a lot of cricket before this series and we've accepted that. England have played a lot of cricket, we haven't but we're not going to be worried about how much cricket we've played."
Instead, members of the squad have said they have prepared in other ways. They have referred to the three-day training camp in Switzerland with regularity and Rudolph was the latest to join in. "We spent some valuable time with Mike Horn, which really unified us," he said. "They were the three toughest days of my life, mentally and physically, and it was nice to do it with your team-mates because it gives you a bit of a stronger bond."
The team spirit was tested in Taunton after they lost their lynchpin. Rudolph described Boucher's injury as "traumatic," but said they "decided we had to move on quite quickly from that." Now, what is on their minds is making sure they are as ready as possible for the first ball on Thursday morning.
Three batsmen - Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Rudolph - scored half-centuries while JP Duminy made 53 against Somerset. "From a batting point of view, everybody got starts and got in," Rudolph said.
Rudolph batted at No.6 in the Kent match having opened in Taunton because Alviro Petersen was injured. He said that while he did not have to make major adjustments, he used the time to tweak small things that are important when batting in England.
"You've got to have a really good game plan and know the way you want to construct an innings here," he said. "You've got to play the ball really late because the bowlers are looking to go fuller so driving becomes a little bit more difficult."
By contrast, the South African bowlers had to adjust their lengths to avoid bowling too short, something Morne Morkel struggled with on arrival. Although they battled to take wickets on a slow surface in Canterbury, Rudolph said the focus was on finding the right rhythms rather than making big breakthroughs.
"It has been a little bit disappointing for the bowlers because the wicket didn't really give them a lot of assistance, but I know specifically in the first innings they were just trying to bowl into their areas," he said. "It was pleasing to see Imran Tahir get four wickets in the first innings because he has been working really hard on his game."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent