England v SA, 1st Investec Test, The Oval July 18, 2012

A Test series that cricket needs

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In an age of hyperbole and a time of superlatives, it is gratifying to come across a sporting contest that requires neither sensationalism nor propaganda. The Test series between England and South Africa features six of the world's top 10 Test bowlers and eight of the top 17 Test batsmen. It will decide which team is ranked No 1 in the world. As Tony Blair so nearly said, now is not the time for soundbites, but the hand of history is upon our shoulders.

This is the series that world cricket required. At a time when the lure of the longest format has been compromised and questioned, the global game should rejoice at the sight of two fine sides contesting a meaningful series in front of packed houses. Cricket has many issues, of course, but this encounter should remind us all that, at its best, Test cricket remains as entertaining, as captivating and as rewarding as ever.

That it is squeezed in between ODI series and forced to fight for media space alongside the Olympics, The Open golf championship and a multitude of other sporting events tells you much about cricket's current challenges. This series deserves better. But, in a sport which has grown so used to compromises that it would pawn its soul if only a buyer could be found, it is telling that such a contest has been condensed and pushed to the margins.

Plenty of fine teams have toured England over the years. Sometimes, as was the case with West Indies and Australia for many years, they succeeded with dispiriting ease. But, arguably anyway, you have to go back to 2005 to find a time when an England team has taken on such good-quality opposition in such an open series. With skilful bowlers of all types, eye-catching batsmen, at least one great all-rounder and some of the toughest batsmen currently playing the game, spectators will not require cheerleaders, fireworks or music to enhance their enjoyment. This series is about cricket, not marketing.

The only problem with such a high-profile clash is that the result may be seen as all important. There is a bigger picture here, though, as the supporters of South Africa and England will understand. South Africa were barred from international competition from 1970 to 1991; England supporters became inured to embarrassment after some grim years in the 1980s and 90s. For both teams, these are golden days that many feared might never have returned. Win lose or draw over the coming few weeks, that is worth remembering.

That is not to say that the result does not matter. It matters plenty. While England may have been able to dismiss the reverse in the UAE as an aberration - they will have another opportunity to answer the questions about their ability in Asian conditions soon enough - their long-term hopes of creating a legacy by which other England sides will be judged may be fatally wounded if their proud home record is also tarnished. As things stand, they have won just one of their last three Test series. If that becomes one in four, any claims of supremacy will ring hollow. The rankings state they are No. 1; now is the time to prove their worth.

England do not, perhaps, have the flair of their South African rivals. But they make few mistakes. They are professional. They are well drilled, well led and able to prey on any weakness of their opponents. In England, at least, they also have an excellent record. They have won seven successive series and lost only two since 2001; one to India in 2007 and one to South Africa in 2008.

Led by the eminently calm and sensible Andrew Strauss, England have done nothing different in recent days. They always want to win. They always prepare professionally.

"There will be an extra bit of spice because it's the two best teams in the world," Andrew Strauss, England's captain, said. "But every series I've played against South Africa has always been keenly contested and I don't think this will be any different.

"It will be a good gauge for us. The rankings say we are No.1 and we have to go out and prove that now. It is going to be a stern challenge, but we always expect the opposition to be hard to overcome.

"We have had our normal preparations. Everything on the surface looks fine. Our preparation has been solid and now it's a case of moving from preparation mode to game mode."

England's only selection decision will be the decision over whether to pick Tim Bresnan or Steven Finn. Graham Onions, who has a minor hamstring strain, is most unlikely to be risked and did not train on Wednesday. Whoever they select, Strauss was quick to credit the attack as one of England's key strengths.

"I am very comfortable with our bowling attack," Strauss said. "It's a match for any side in the world. They have proved that continuously over the last three or four years.

"Their record speaks for itself. We haven't needed that fifth bowler while taking 20 wickets pretty much continuously over the last 24 months or so. In some ways Ravi Bopara coming into the side gives you opportunity for a fourth seamer although he's not an out-and-out bowler clearly. But our three seamers and Swanny have always done a good job for us."

England do have two potential weaknesses, though. The first is their catching which, in the slips and gully region, has been distinctly fallible over recent times. In a series which could be decided by small margins, that could prove crucial.

The other issue is the on-going distraction caused by the fall-out between Pietersen and the ECB. Omitted from England's World Twenty20 preliminary squad despite his insistence that he is available for all three formats - albeit it not on a permanent basis - there is legitimate concern that Pietersen's dissatisfaction could cause discomfort in a dressing room that has been stable and focused for several years.

But, while some of his team-mates are biting their tongues hard to avoid losing their tempers with Pietersen's vacillating moods, Strauss insisted that he had no concerns and said he remained hopeful that a compromise - a controversial word in itself in this situation - could be reached whereby Pietersen's return to all formats could be brokered.

"The conversations that Kevin has been having have been between himself, his representatives and the board," Strauss said. "The players haven't been involved, the management haven't been involved and that's the way we'd like it to remain. It hasn't been a distraction for us. It hasn't entered our thinking and that's enabled us to concentrate on preparing properly for this game. Kevin is determined to do well in this series. I haven't seen any signs in his preparations to suggest he is anyway distracted."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SuperSharky on July 21, 2012, 10:57 GMT

    I can't agree more with the title of this article " A Test series that cricket needs ". This is really a special series, so please, don't let the transfer-critics let us concentrate on the irrelevant stuff. I'm glad Tahir married a South African and stayed and worked long enough in South Africa to qualify to play for them. Zaffers should never point out that KP or Strauss could have played for them or even that they had a part in building a South African society. Because you closed doors on them. Everybody knew for years that England had a British Empire and that they spot talent all over the commonwealth countries. The players were never forced to go to England and they all arrived out of their own will (turning their backs on their previous country). Mentioning that KP could have qualified for South Africa is like bragging about your mistakes. Not a winner's way. Right, now back to the cricket.

  • PanGlupek on July 19, 2012, 15:01 GMT

    @Munkeymomo: No, don't worry, I haven't forgotten that they lost 3-0 to Pakistan. How many other series have they lost in their last 12?

    @CDUP, That's true that England weren't exactly going places around 2007/early 2008. Just goes to show what a job Flower, etc have done (I'm not English, by the way, I'm Belgian, but I do genuinely believe they are the best team in the world right now).

  • on July 19, 2012, 12:54 GMT

    aj.sa11, you talk about KP and Trott as if they were part of the apartheid movement. Apartheid was a terrible crime against humanity but what are they meant to do? sacrifice a test match career because of some notion of 'fairness' in payment for a crime they were not part of? Both have dual parentage so it was their parents who made the choice for them to grow up in SA and go through their formative years in the SA system, not them. You mention DeVilliers, Steyn, Morkel and the rest. How many of them have a British parent? Do you honestly think any professional sportsman would have made a different choice in the same circumstance as KP or Trott. On the flip side of the coin, would you have advocated refusing Strauss or Prior the chance to play for SA if they had decided to move to SA?

  • on July 19, 2012, 12:21 GMT

    nice artile..............

  • RednWhiteArmy on July 19, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    I must admit i love reading the anti-England squad comments, racking their brains for a possible reason why England should'nt be Number 1, all because they would rather talk about anything other than their OWN countries ranking.

    England was thwarted by rain against the "green & yellow" ...otherwise England would have completed the hat-trick of Best in test, 50 over & T20....and if your honest with yourself, England is the A-team and i pity the fool who doesnt recognise.

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 10:33 GMT

    @perl57 on (July 18 2012, 21:09 PM GMT) And re the Bell incident - Bell went on to score about 20 or so more runs so it hardly made a difference. Had India not backed down then they would have been in for hostilities from the crowds for the rest of the tour as that would have been an extremely cheap bit of gamesmanship (at best)Also we DREW with SL who are 6th placed in the world closer to team India in 5TH than WI and NZ below.

  • Scratchingtendulkar on July 19, 2012, 10:05 GMT

    Goodness, keep hearing about these supposed 'horrible' English conditions as a reason why England are so good. I might point out that these same conditions didn't stop the great West Indian side of the 70's and 80's and the last great Australian side of the 90's from regularly winning in England. Maybe the opposition just aren't as good as they used to be, whilst England are much better? As for away form - okay England were soundly beaten in the tests against Pakistan (but note did turn it around big time in the ODI's) in UAE, but short memories from the Aussies about the recent trouncing by England in Australia just 18 months ago (or has that one been conveniently forgotten!!). Now if you really want to discuss a side who only like playing in their own 'horrible' conditions and who regularly get trounced whenever they travel away - I give you.....India!!!! (LOL)

  • on July 19, 2012, 10:03 GMT

    @ bantersaurus - my sentiments entirely mate!!

  • on July 19, 2012, 9:58 GMT

    It is really interesting reading all the comments about this test series (short one though it is!). Of course I would like England to firmly cement its no 1 position (at least playing in a non-Asian environment) by beating SA but I have admired SA for many years and there are strengths there that could be the undoing of England. However I feel that if we play to our full potential, especially in the field, we have a good chance. Whatever the outcome anyone having the opportunity to watch should enjoy some good cricket. I wish both teams well.

  • NkosiEcosse on July 19, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    The fact of the matter is that England playing at home wil get the advatage, but if the weather stays good South Africa are potentially superior. I notice also that the article had to get into teh top 20 of batsmen to ensure enough English names. If it was topo 10 only then SA come out tops in every aspect. Hopefully they will do so in the matcvhes as well, although I expect the crappy English weather will dominate.

  • SuperSharky on July 21, 2012, 10:57 GMT

    I can't agree more with the title of this article " A Test series that cricket needs ". This is really a special series, so please, don't let the transfer-critics let us concentrate on the irrelevant stuff. I'm glad Tahir married a South African and stayed and worked long enough in South Africa to qualify to play for them. Zaffers should never point out that KP or Strauss could have played for them or even that they had a part in building a South African society. Because you closed doors on them. Everybody knew for years that England had a British Empire and that they spot talent all over the commonwealth countries. The players were never forced to go to England and they all arrived out of their own will (turning their backs on their previous country). Mentioning that KP could have qualified for South Africa is like bragging about your mistakes. Not a winner's way. Right, now back to the cricket.

  • PanGlupek on July 19, 2012, 15:01 GMT

    @Munkeymomo: No, don't worry, I haven't forgotten that they lost 3-0 to Pakistan. How many other series have they lost in their last 12?

    @CDUP, That's true that England weren't exactly going places around 2007/early 2008. Just goes to show what a job Flower, etc have done (I'm not English, by the way, I'm Belgian, but I do genuinely believe they are the best team in the world right now).

  • on July 19, 2012, 12:54 GMT

    aj.sa11, you talk about KP and Trott as if they were part of the apartheid movement. Apartheid was a terrible crime against humanity but what are they meant to do? sacrifice a test match career because of some notion of 'fairness' in payment for a crime they were not part of? Both have dual parentage so it was their parents who made the choice for them to grow up in SA and go through their formative years in the SA system, not them. You mention DeVilliers, Steyn, Morkel and the rest. How many of them have a British parent? Do you honestly think any professional sportsman would have made a different choice in the same circumstance as KP or Trott. On the flip side of the coin, would you have advocated refusing Strauss or Prior the chance to play for SA if they had decided to move to SA?

  • on July 19, 2012, 12:21 GMT

    nice artile..............

  • RednWhiteArmy on July 19, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    I must admit i love reading the anti-England squad comments, racking their brains for a possible reason why England should'nt be Number 1, all because they would rather talk about anything other than their OWN countries ranking.

    England was thwarted by rain against the "green & yellow" ...otherwise England would have completed the hat-trick of Best in test, 50 over & T20....and if your honest with yourself, England is the A-team and i pity the fool who doesnt recognise.

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 10:33 GMT

    @perl57 on (July 18 2012, 21:09 PM GMT) And re the Bell incident - Bell went on to score about 20 or so more runs so it hardly made a difference. Had India not backed down then they would have been in for hostilities from the crowds for the rest of the tour as that would have been an extremely cheap bit of gamesmanship (at best)Also we DREW with SL who are 6th placed in the world closer to team India in 5TH than WI and NZ below.

  • Scratchingtendulkar on July 19, 2012, 10:05 GMT

    Goodness, keep hearing about these supposed 'horrible' English conditions as a reason why England are so good. I might point out that these same conditions didn't stop the great West Indian side of the 70's and 80's and the last great Australian side of the 90's from regularly winning in England. Maybe the opposition just aren't as good as they used to be, whilst England are much better? As for away form - okay England were soundly beaten in the tests against Pakistan (but note did turn it around big time in the ODI's) in UAE, but short memories from the Aussies about the recent trouncing by England in Australia just 18 months ago (or has that one been conveniently forgotten!!). Now if you really want to discuss a side who only like playing in their own 'horrible' conditions and who regularly get trounced whenever they travel away - I give you.....India!!!! (LOL)

  • on July 19, 2012, 10:03 GMT

    @ bantersaurus - my sentiments entirely mate!!

  • on July 19, 2012, 9:58 GMT

    It is really interesting reading all the comments about this test series (short one though it is!). Of course I would like England to firmly cement its no 1 position (at least playing in a non-Asian environment) by beating SA but I have admired SA for many years and there are strengths there that could be the undoing of England. However I feel that if we play to our full potential, especially in the field, we have a good chance. Whatever the outcome anyone having the opportunity to watch should enjoy some good cricket. I wish both teams well.

  • NkosiEcosse on July 19, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    The fact of the matter is that England playing at home wil get the advatage, but if the weather stays good South Africa are potentially superior. I notice also that the article had to get into teh top 20 of batsmen to ensure enough English names. If it was topo 10 only then SA come out tops in every aspect. Hopefully they will do so in the matcvhes as well, although I expect the crappy English weather will dominate.

  • on July 19, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    whats special in this test so cricket need ? every test is important for cricket & let me correct u espn guys that none of in current England & Soth Africa cricket teams like 1990's invincible WestIndies & Steve waugh's Australia.

  • aj.sa11 on July 19, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    As a South African I'd like to add my view on the KP an Trott issue. Growing up in SA as kids they would have had access to the best of schools, facilities, coaching, equipment etc. All this on the blood and sweat of millions who didn't have or were denied that opportunity because of apartheid. As soon as the equation was equalised they scream quota, cashed in on their British passports and ran forgetting all that SA gave them. They, and by process of reason, their parents were happy to stay, British passports and all when the greatest quota system of all was being forced on the majority of people in SA. They playing for England is fine, but don't they and their fans ever forget of where they started,with the best of everything. I applaud the players like AB, Steyn, the Morkels, Botha, de Lange, Ingram, Miller, Levi etc who stayed and developed despite the so called quota system.

  • Munkeymomo on July 19, 2012, 9:29 GMT

    @PanGlupek Don't forget the 3 tests England lost to Pakistan (I cannot believe you forgot them they are brought up every 5 minutes on these boards).

    At the end of the day I'm a bit annoyed as this series has gone from one I was really looking forwards to watching to one I cannot wait to be over so we know the result one way or another and all of the bitching on the boards can stop (though I doubt it will, even if England win, it will move onto something else).

    Facts are facts South Africa have more talented individuals but England are mentally tougher. South Africa draw to many series to be called the best in my opinion. They lack killer instinct. I hope they find it in this series and go toe to toe with England. Although a draw would not be a terrible result, it would make it drawn series in England and South Africa.

  • Selassie-I on July 19, 2012, 9:10 GMT

    @perl57 - Dead wickets in the UAE? that's why Pak only got one score of any note as well, those matches were much closer than people seem to remember, england were in witha sniff in the first 2 tests for the whole games and should really have won one. ODI is irrelivant, these are tests. the rankings are devised using a points system; England currently have the most points thus are No1. Why cannot people accept this, England have won a higher % of their matches by a higher margin than anyone else during this period... it would be a crime if they were not no.1! however if SA win here, they would rightfully be No1!

  • on July 19, 2012, 9:07 GMT

    As far as bullying at home is concerned India are still no.1 England after that.SA have no no.5,6 and 7 but they have Amla, Kallis and AB and Smith in 2nd innings but England have only Cook.Also England have Swann. So it all depend on whether Anderson will take out AB and Amla cheaply only then England can whitewash SA.

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 8:54 GMT

    I must admit I'm getting really concerned about where KP is at mentally and I'm wondering if Eng should go with a 5 man attack with Ravi as our 5th bat? I know KP is a huge player but if his head's not right

  • CDUP on July 19, 2012, 8:39 GMT

    @PanGlupek

    It's funny you focus on the last 12, because if you make it 15 they lost 4.

    SA on the other hand only lost 1 in the last 15... they might have 6 draws (while England only has 2 draws), but I'll take 6 draws over 4 losses any day.

  • 512fm on July 19, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    Please win South Africa, I don't think I'll be able to handle the Poms winning another home series and saying how amazing they are (even though they get thrashed when they play away).

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 8:24 GMT

    @John Ide on (July 19 2012, 04:28 AM GMT) It was actually 3-1 but if you want to give us an extra test we'll take it. There are loads who distort the facts the other way

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 8:24 GMT

    @Rahul_78 on (July 19 2012, 05:37 AM GMT) Yeah right , because after the UAE series all the England fans were using Bresnan being out, Tremlett getting injured , Trott playing whilst ill as excuses. Some of us have better standards. PS I'm sure that if Eng do somehow fluke a win , not one person will use Boucher as an excuse?

  • JG2704 on July 19, 2012, 8:24 GMT

    @Shan156 on (July 19 2012, 00:00 AM GMT) Mate - Sorry , that part of my comment was just to save our Indian friends saying it

  • Scratchingtendulkar on July 19, 2012, 8:21 GMT

    Great, can't wait for this series between (by far) the two best teams in the World. My only disappointment is that there are only 3 tests - this should, and deserves to be a 5 (or even 6) match series. Let's get it on!!

  • PanGlupek on July 19, 2012, 8:12 GMT

    At anyone saying England don't deserve thier #1 ranking, how many test series have they lost recently? I make it 1 defeat in the last 12 (2 draws, both away, one in SA, one in SL). Has any other country got a record that matches that at the moment? I agree it seems a bit of a joke that they could go top of the ODI rankings, but even then, they've only lost 3 series in the last 15 (including the World cup). They don't lose too often in T20 either.

    At anyone whingeing about England supposedly stealing South Africans, ask yourself why they aren't playing for SA. In SA, KP wasn't getting games, and when he did, he got picked as a spinner & batted #9. Trott couldn't get a game either & had a British passport. The other "saffas" were all raised in England from a young age. In all those cases it was England who recognised & nurtured the talent. Feel sorry for Ireland with Morgan, but he probably won't play this series anyway.

  • Stereo11 on July 19, 2012, 7:52 GMT

    #phoenixsteve. Oh dear, what short memories you Englishmen have.

  • RednWhiteArmy on July 19, 2012, 7:38 GMT

    Finally england might have a challenging game....The last challenging game england played in any form was against West Indies

  • Sarangarajan on July 19, 2012, 7:05 GMT

    The series though has generated a lot of interest,am sure it will be England's series for the taking.England are probably playing the best test Cricket right now.Apart from their bowling which has worked out its way at least in England, the batting looks ominous, dogged and gritty.A formidable batting line up.Their enthusiasm on the field coupled with their professionalism will definitely see them through difficult situations in the series ahead.As for as SA is concerned, they will fight of course but shall choke rightly at the wrong moments.Their batting does not inspire to be the to be contender for number one in test cricket.Yes their bowling is solid and fearful but then England batting could see them through.

  • MAK123 on July 19, 2012, 6:56 GMT

    @JB633...hahaha yeah I get the drift! Indeed, we should be discussing Sachin Tendulkar and his sick cat instead..I think this is the perfect platform to also discuss if Virat Kohli is another Bradman in the making or if Zaheer Khan will overtake Imran Khan in greatness...LMFAO

  • Romanticstud on July 19, 2012, 6:38 GMT

    England vs South Africa 1 vs 2 no 3 ... because the stats show over 4 years ... but still it is unfair to go on numbers because England played a lot more than South Africa ... and the stats show that England have performed better than any team at home and South Africa better than any team away ... But cricket is a strange game ... it is played day by day ... hour by hour ... over by over ... one moment of brilliance ... can change the course of any test match ... but then there can be several over five days that can swing it to and fro ... It is a game of momentum ... England currently have momentum from the Australia ODI series ... but can they convert that to 5 Days ... South Africa are well rested ... maybe rusty ... or firing on all cylinders ... watch this space ... whatever the outcome ... it will be close ... My money is on England ... even though I would like South Africa to win again ...

  • on July 19, 2012, 6:21 GMT

    pak in 2010....4 tests .... ind in 2011.... 4 tests .... SA in 2012 ... 3 tests .... WHY????????????????????????????

  • veerakannadiga on July 19, 2012, 6:20 GMT

    Let the #1 team compete with the #2 in a neutral venue to decide who is really the best.Only England can play in those horrible English conditions.

  • getsetgopk on July 19, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    Seriously hope SA don't choke this time around because like the author rightly said, cricket need this epic battle, the sides are evenly matched, Eng may have edge in batting but SA edge past in fast bowling and more often the matches will be fought closely, he who can control his nerves will be victorious, I personally think Eng will come on top just my opinion though.

  • on July 19, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    It never ceases to amaze me the anti English comments on these threads. Obviously success breeds envy amongst your rivals. England are no 1 because they are the best, PS where are India in the the Test rankings ? lol

  • flippet on July 19, 2012, 6:11 GMT

    Good one RandyOZ. My prediction is Strauss will resign as captain after this series become victim number 3 for Smith.

  • bantersaurus on July 19, 2012, 5:45 GMT

    George Dobell - in the last 12 months Pakistan has beaten England 3-0, and 1-1 against Sri Lanka. New Zealand and South Africa both come away with exciting games to end both series 1 a piece and most recently Australia had to fight hard for their series win in West Indies. After this series England are going to India, South Africa and Sri Lanka are going down to Australia. After that it's the Ashes again! think you've just sold the state of test cricket short pal.

  • Cool_Jeeves on July 19, 2012, 5:43 GMT

    Awaiting slaughter of SAFs

  • harshthakor on July 19, 2012, 5:38 GMT

    I pray that cricket is above all the greatest winner.We may witness one of the most hard-fought battles in recent times like a clash of the titans.On Form,England should be the favourites with their outstanding performances on seaming tops in England and Australia,defeating top opposition.England has a more organised team in terms of batting depth,allrounders and variations in bowling attack.However South Africa has more genuine match-winners with the likes of Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn,arguably the greatest cricketers today.Kallis is the best all-rounder,statistically the best of all time while Steyn is the best pace bowler and ranks amongst the best of all time.The pace attack of the Proteas is one of the most lethal attacks to ever tour England in recent times.If they get their act together S.Africa may well triumph and deservedly clinch the unofficial test cricket world champion title.Afterall,they are playing one of the strongest post war English teams.

  • Rahul_78 on July 19, 2012, 5:37 GMT

    Oh boy..if the POMs loose to SAFers then they have a ready made excuse to blame in KP...Their very own SAFer!

  • Clive_Dunn on July 19, 2012, 5:22 GMT

    Don't worry Randy, no one would ever try to poach Peter Forrest. The future of cricket in Australia is secure.

  • priceless1 on July 19, 2012, 5:18 GMT

    two green track bullies going head to head !!

  • phoenixsteve on July 19, 2012, 5:18 GMT

    What a great teaser for the upcoming contest? As an Englan supporter and cricket fan for 45 years I EXPECT every Englishman to do his duty and for England to win! Not decrying South Africa but England have the better attack in English conditions. The UDRS will come into play too and both captains are shrewd and tactically aware. The return series in SA will be close but this Englishman expects...... (How jealous the 2nd rate Aussies must be?)... COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • binojpeter on July 19, 2012, 5:17 GMT

    It will be an interesting series. Hard to predict who will win the series. I am rooting for a 1-1 draw. If all the tests have a result, a 2-1 but hard to say in favor of which team. I believe whoever wins the first test has a greater chance of taking the series.

  • anver777 on July 19, 2012, 5:17 GMT

    Its gonna be a test series at its best !!!!!!!! a battle for supremacy !!!

  • pratn on July 19, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    But not a series cricket deserves ;)

  • mrgupta on July 19, 2012, 5:09 GMT

    This surely will be an interesting series. Its always said that the players who play as a team Wins. SA has great players including a legend like Kallis and one of game's great bowler Steyn, however, they fail to click as a team. There is no other reason why India can be no.1 and SA cannot. Its not that India only Won tests at home, they defeated Eng in Eng (2007) they squared series in SA and SL, Won tests in Aus and all that without any good bowling attack. SA has the players but they need to play like a team like England is doing at the moment. English players are perfectly synced up with each other, one fails, other performs and they play well as a team and win. I sure hope SA give Eng a tough time though i still feel it will be England who will win the test series.

  • thebarmyarmy on July 19, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    All this complaining from Australian fans about South African players wanting to play for England. A bit harsh. Have a look at your sporting teams, rock bands, prime minister etc. LOL

  • on July 19, 2012, 4:10 GMT

    In the batting, South Africa Firsts vs South Africa Seconds. In the bowling its the South African great and the new rising star vs the English Awesome Foursome. England has the wood in the spin department and based on spin and it being England at home in perma overcast conditions, I give England in a 2-1 decision, though rain may cause havoc.

    One thing though, this will be a far different contest to the Indians who just wanted to be home counting their rupees and the disinterested Aussies who were found out badly on not having a clue how to handle the Duke ball and English weather. One thing that worries me about the Saffers Firsts is they drew at home with Australia last year and with India. Not very good for the team wanting to be No 1.

    Looks like England 1... South Africa 2.. Aussies 3 and who cares the rest as they are miles behind. anr fyi, I'm aussie.

  • Patrick_ on July 19, 2012, 4:09 GMT

    Eagerly waiting for this series. Love to see two world class fast bowling teams battle it out in favorable conditions . SA don't disappoint us !

  • killer_z on July 19, 2012, 3:18 GMT

    It should be a great series IF THE RAIN STAYS AWAY!!!!

  • on July 19, 2012, 3:17 GMT

    George states that England has WON just one out of three series -- which means that the other two were either losses, draws, or a mix. Technically that is the correct analysis -- he did not state that England lost versus SL. Aside from that, recall the interval between series -- in the UAE England's team was rusty at some level, whereas going into the SA series, England is a little better warmed up, irrespective of conditions. Frankly I'm more worried that the series will be anticlimactic because of really poor weather (not to mention distractions of Olympic proportions...) that if we see a 0-0 draw with 8 play days lost to rain, the conclusion might be that England didn't play well... Kudos to George for describing Andrew Strauss as eminently calm and sensible -- how true. Others might describe him as tactically not the greatest -- but as Al Davis used to say about the Oakland Raiders -"Just win, baby!"

  • WindiesWillow on July 19, 2012, 3:08 GMT

    I firmly believe that SA is a better team with better players than England. England has been dominating recently in their home conditions which were not suitable for the WI and Australia. I think Dale Steyn and Philander may outclass the English in their backyard and win this series. also, I am waiting to see how England performs in away matches.

  • BenGundry on July 19, 2012, 1:46 GMT

    @RandyOZ, you have it so totally backwards. England hasn't poached anyone. The players have moved because they couldn't get the right opportunities at home. Either because their country didn't play tests, because they weren't good enough, or didn't agree with their countries selection criteria, fell in love with someone from the other country, or various other reasons.

    When it comes to not helping other countries develop their cricket, Australia is one of the major offenders, they've always avoided touring or hosting weaker countries. just look at how much they played NZ in the first 25 years of NZ test cricket compared to England.

  • landl47 on July 19, 2012, 1:43 GMT

    You shouldn't pretend to be serious, RandyOZ, it doesn't suit you. Being the loveable buffoon is more your style. Ever heard of Tim Murtagh? You should have, since he lined up for Ireland against Australia in the (sadly rained off) ODI fixture a few weeks ago. Born in Lambeth, London, played for Middlesex, just recently qualified for Ireland. If you had an argument (which you don't), then whoosh!- that was it leaving.

  • Ozcricketwriter on July 19, 2012, 0:51 GMT

    It is held in England; so England is at a huge advantage. If South Africa win the series, then they are indisputably the top team. If they don't, then they still might be if they can beat England in South Africa.

  • Drew2 on July 19, 2012, 0:51 GMT

    @OliverWebber - excellent post, even though you are letting facts get in the way of a good whinge.

  • hyrclov on July 19, 2012, 0:51 GMT

    indeed , interesting article , the team who bats first will determine where this match goes , I get to see Amla and greame smith smash James Anderson to the fence repeatedly will be a joy to watch , let's see how alastair cook copes , great hype SA are going to boss England

  • Hammond on July 19, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    @randyoz- so England were "killing the game" exactly 30 years ago when they had more foreign players than they do now in the test side? Why is it that no-one complained about this when England weren't number one?

  • hyrclov on July 19, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    indeed, interesting article , the team that bats first has the edge , get the jitters out of the way, I cant wait to see Alma and greame smith smash Anderson to the fence repeatedly for what he did us in the windies series , they surely won't do like India , this is a tough test for Alastair cook for me , he needs help now , thank you

  • Shan156 on July 19, 2012, 0:00 GMT

    @JG2704, mate, why would it be undeserving if England get to #1 in all three formats after the ODI series? I agree, we are not a great ODI team but we have been playing good ODI cricket of late and if we beat SA and the ICC rank us #1, why would it be undeserving?

  • heathrf1974 on July 18, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    I don't understand people bagging out the sides. They are both fine sides and this will give us a great idea of who'll be no. 1. The English have the advantage with home conditions and use of the duke.

  • on July 18, 2012, 23:31 GMT

    it's good to be number 1 as everyone seems to be jealous, especially the Aussies + South African's, they should be happy for the mother country. i think the weather is going to have a massive influence on this series, 1-1 or 1-0 to England, just hope South Africa live up to the hype and actually give us a game unlike Australia and India.

  • 2.14istherunrate on July 18, 2012, 23:24 GMT

    @perl57- Please look at the rankings as they are not as they aren't-ie in your dreams. england happenj to be no.1 by 6 pts. says it loud and clear. south africa are no.3. it says so. Please look at the evidence. Also England won the test in Colombo making it a 1-1 series out of 2. sadly a 3rd game was not played-a ridiculous situation. By the way when did SA ever play more than a 2 test seies in subcontinent?

  • Juiceoftheapple on July 18, 2012, 23:10 GMT

    Be nice for someone to give us a game after last summer.

  • jb633 on July 18, 2012, 22:36 GMT

    @perl57, since when did England lose in SL. I think you will find the series was drawn 1-1. We were not too far off winning the 1st test and we absloutley smoken SL in the second. We were hammered by India in the ODI series, but if we are to bring ODI's into the equation, then we must mention the 4-0 whitewash over PAK and the T20 win. I will happily admit that PAK battered us in that test series, simply we had no answer to Ajmal. But I think our tour of Asia was mixed rather than disastorous. If we want to look at a disaster look at India's tours of ENG and AUS. They didnt win anything. I agree with Hoops though that we have to win this series if we are to ever bragg again about having the no 1 side. Should be a cracking series. At least the paying public know the SA side will fight till the end, and they won't be short changed like they were last summer. Long live test cricket

  • RandyOZ on July 18, 2012, 22:35 GMT

    The difference between England and Australia/South Africa is that Aus/SA send international standard players to weaker countries to help their cricket system (Johnson, Cooper, Nash, Wagner, etc) whereas England are virtually killing cricket when they poach from other coutnries like SA and Ireland, depleting their stocks. I would say it's a very hollow number 1 for 'England.' One would argue they are killing the game as much as the IPL.

  • RandyOZ on July 18, 2012, 22:30 GMT

    SA A vs. SA B will be a great contest. Would be rude of B to beat A though, you should never bite off the hand that feeds you!

  • OliverWebber on July 18, 2012, 22:02 GMT

    Better to check facts before writing angry posts... perl57: (1) Eng didn't lose to SL, they drew; (2) Eng are not "claiming something they are not" - the ranking system rates them as no. 1 in tests. If you think the ranking system is faulty, you can have that argument with the ICC statisticians! Hello13: re-read the article, paragraph 7 - "In England ... They have won seven successive series and lost only two since 2001; one to India in 2007 and one to South Africa in 2008." No-one is ignoring when England were defeated, be it by India in 2007, Pakistan this year or indeed India in ODIs in 2011.

  • MrPontingToYou on July 18, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    @ gloucsfan, could'nt agree more.

  • Nerk on July 18, 2012, 22:00 GMT

    As long as this series is better than the farce that was last years 'battle for number 1' between India and England, I don't care.

  • MrPontingToYou on July 18, 2012, 21:59 GMT

    hopefully this series lives up to expectations, and sa ar'nt as pathetic as india were last year.

  • jb633 on July 18, 2012, 21:54 GMT

    Gentlemen we are missing the key point here. Sachin Tendulkar's cat has got the flu. Why are we even talking about Eng vs SA.

  • RodStark on July 18, 2012, 21:49 GMT

    A great article, but please bear in mind that we were saying much the same thing prior to the India series last year, and we know how that turned out.

  • perl57 on July 18, 2012, 21:09 GMT

    That's exactly kind of crapola that has been lousing England. Win #1 ok. Fair and square. Albeit few wrong decisions, few requests for begging, opposition fielding a 'f' grade team. Fact is how on earth are England claiming something they are not, #1..... Let us see what they can do. They lost to SL also who are presently the worst of the lot in the world. Got smothered in ODIs in India. Got rolled over by pakistanis on dead batting wicket....that is the reality of England. Worst yet, now they lost KP in ODI and T20.

  • Hello13 on July 18, 2012, 20:53 GMT

    Ignoring when India beat you in 07. Typical.

  • pawaramol22 on July 18, 2012, 20:28 GMT

    This is going to be exciting and great test series, but I fail to see why this is the one cricket needs?

  • JG2704 on July 18, 2012, 20:16 GMT

    I think the weather's getting better so even though this test might be interrupted , the other 2 will hopefully be ok. A shame this is just a 3 test series but I suppose it'sone up on the SA/Aus series and also both sides can go number 1 in ODIs after that series so there's the possibilty SA could return as number 1 in 2 formats or Eng could even be number 1 (obviously undeserved) in 3 formats.

  • yorkslanka on July 18, 2012, 19:56 GMT

    all those that are calling for five tests, this is three because it is being sacrificed for the beloved ashes..

  • coolerking on July 18, 2012, 19:49 GMT

    If the only two things England have to worry about are their catching and the KP non-story then that's great.

    Yes, they've dropped a few in recent games but everyone does and in any case they tend to take them when it really matters. I can't recall the last time they lost a Test because of dropped catches.

    And the KP issue is an irrelevance as far as this Test series goes. It's the kind of thing that cricket journalists tend to get very excited about and which means very little in the dressing room.

    Bring it on!

  • 2.14istherunrate on July 18, 2012, 19:25 GMT

    Get bored of saying it but this is really a situation that cries out for 5 tests. Three tests will be over in a flash and the weather is hazardous to say the least.

  • avmd on July 18, 2012, 19:24 GMT

    Absolutely, series like this one have been keeping the test criceket alive. I din't bother to watch the useless Eng-Aus ODIs played recently but could not wait for this one to start. I'm neutral, not supporting any team in particular, but have a feeling that England will win it by a close margin 1-0 or 2-1.

  • SurlyCynic on July 18, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    Tough to choose between the sides. My prediction (apart from a batsman born in SA being man of the match) is a 1-1 series draw, sadly I don't think the weather will allow 3 results.

  • mikey76 on July 18, 2012, 19:15 GMT

    It doesn't help that our two best slip fielders are bowlers. We could get away with dropped catches against the West indies but we saw in SL over the winter how a dropped catch can quite literally lose a match. Guys like Smith and Amla in particular will punish missed chances. Lets hope the slip and gully cordon grab everything that comes its way.

  • anuradha_d on July 18, 2012, 19:14 GMT

    A Test series that cricket needs......Really ?....who decides that ?.......do 95% cricket followrs agree with that ?...regrdless...if it was that important....why is it cutailed to opnly 3 tests

  • on July 18, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    I am so looking forward to this series.

  • Gloucsfan on July 18, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    3 tests is a joke, should be 5

  • Nadeem1976 on July 18, 2012, 18:18 GMT

    This is the series which can save test cricket. This can be the greatest series after ashes 2005. let's all hope to see great great test cricket and results only please. No draw matches. Just go for it. Save test cricket.

  • superstar100 on July 18, 2012, 18:06 GMT

    go africans go !!! best of luk S.A

  • 5wombats on July 18, 2012, 18:00 GMT

    "they will have another opportunity to answer the questions about their ability in Asian conditions soon enough" - David - why is this here? Nobody gives fig about "Asian conditions", they're irrelevent. What matters is what happens between England and South Africa for the next few weeks. bring it on.

  • on July 18, 2012, 17:45 GMT

    Engalnd to with at The Oval, South Africa to respond at Headingley before the inevitable draw at Lords to leave the series level at 1-1.

  • on July 18, 2012, 17:43 GMT

    desperately waiting for this series to start ... i am more interested in this series than india vs sri lanks

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  • on July 18, 2012, 17:43 GMT

    desperately waiting for this series to start ... i am more interested in this series than india vs sri lanks

  • on July 18, 2012, 17:45 GMT

    Engalnd to with at The Oval, South Africa to respond at Headingley before the inevitable draw at Lords to leave the series level at 1-1.

  • 5wombats on July 18, 2012, 18:00 GMT

    "they will have another opportunity to answer the questions about their ability in Asian conditions soon enough" - David - why is this here? Nobody gives fig about "Asian conditions", they're irrelevent. What matters is what happens between England and South Africa for the next few weeks. bring it on.

  • superstar100 on July 18, 2012, 18:06 GMT

    go africans go !!! best of luk S.A

  • Nadeem1976 on July 18, 2012, 18:18 GMT

    This is the series which can save test cricket. This can be the greatest series after ashes 2005. let's all hope to see great great test cricket and results only please. No draw matches. Just go for it. Save test cricket.

  • Gloucsfan on July 18, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    3 tests is a joke, should be 5

  • on July 18, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    I am so looking forward to this series.

  • anuradha_d on July 18, 2012, 19:14 GMT

    A Test series that cricket needs......Really ?....who decides that ?.......do 95% cricket followrs agree with that ?...regrdless...if it was that important....why is it cutailed to opnly 3 tests

  • mikey76 on July 18, 2012, 19:15 GMT

    It doesn't help that our two best slip fielders are bowlers. We could get away with dropped catches against the West indies but we saw in SL over the winter how a dropped catch can quite literally lose a match. Guys like Smith and Amla in particular will punish missed chances. Lets hope the slip and gully cordon grab everything that comes its way.

  • SurlyCynic on July 18, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    Tough to choose between the sides. My prediction (apart from a batsman born in SA being man of the match) is a 1-1 series draw, sadly I don't think the weather will allow 3 results.