Let battle commence
Match factsThursday July 10 to Monday 14, 2008
Start time 11.00 (10.00GMT)
After 19 consecutive fixtures against the lowly New Zealanders, the tempo is about to be cranked up several notches. England and South Africa are among the most consistently thrilling opponents in the modern Test arena - two elite nations that have scrapped themselves to a standstill over the course of six series since South Africa's readmission in 1994. Invariably, the jousts in that time have centred around the pace bowlers on each side - from Devon Malcolm in 1994 to Allan Donald in 1998, Makhaya Ntini in 2003 and England's Ashes-winning quartet 18 months later. That pattern seems set to continue this summer, as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel join Ntini in a formidable South African line-up that is already inviting lofty comparisons with the West Indian attacks of the 1980s.
Form guideEngland WWDWW
South Africa LWDWW
Watch out for...
Morne Morkel Steyn is South Africa's current Boy Wonder, having harvested 78 wickets in a stellar 12 months, but the 6'6" Morkel has the capacity to be the discovery of the summer. He has played six Tests to date, but five of those have been on the pancake-flat strips of the subcontinent. England's lush zippy tracks will be much more to his liking, as he seeks to emulate Steve Harmison in his pomp, and batter England's bat-handles with vicious, leaping bounce off a good length.
Kevin Pietersen This is the series that Pietersen was born to take part in. He's had to wait 39 Tests and three years since making his Test debut in the 2005 Ashes, in which time he has played against every Test opponent except for Bangladesh. But all of South Africa will remember the manner in which he announced himself on the international stage, with a phenomenal run of three hundreds in six innings on England's one-day tour of South Africa in 2004-05. His cocky, abrasive nature is sure to get under the skin of his former countrymen, not least Graeme Smith, whom Pietersen dismissed as a "muppet" in his autobiography. Expect fireworks.
England have set a new world record by naming an unchanged side for the sixth match in succession, although the façade of stability is all set to crumble with the impending return of Andrew Flintoff. He trained with the England squad on the eve of the match, and if he comes through Lancashire's championship match at the Rose Bowl next week, he seems certain to be named in the squad for Headingley. Therefore, as Mickey Arthur has helpfully pointed out, there will be three or four players with an axe dangling over them at Lords, not least Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, who mustered 77 runs between them against New Zealand.
England 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Andrew Strauss, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt), 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 Monty Panesar, 11 James Anderson
South Africa themselves are on a bit of a selection roll. Although Andre Nel remains in the frame as a fourth out-and-out quick, they are likely to name an unchanged side for the fourth match in a row, having settled on a squad that has won six of their last seven Test series. The one that got away was no disgrace either - a 1-1 draw in India in April. The newly updated ICC rankings reflect their current hot streak, and they are now the undisputed second-best side in the world, clear of India in third place and England in fourth. If there is a fragility about their side, it is in the batting, where four of the top six have never yet played a Test in English conditions. A huge amount rests on the experience of Smith and Jacques Kallis.
South Africa 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Neil McKenzie, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.
Umpires: Billy Bowden and Daryl Harper
Pitch and conditions
It's going to be a damp week in St John's Wood. Near-incessant rain has forced both teams into the indoor nets for the past three days, and the covers have been camped on the wicket. Thursday, however, does promise to be sunny in places, and the phenomenal drainage of the Lord's outfield means that there may yet be more play than one could normally anticipate in such conditions. Nevertheless, if the match gets underway amid heavy cloud cover, it could well be a good time to bowl first.
Stats and Trivia
"Against New Zealand, [England] were very good and very steady, and did a good job as a unit, but what they did lack was the genuine pace of a Flintoff, Steve Harmison, or even a Simon Jones."
South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur damns England's attack with faint praise.
"I think the South Africa series is nearly up there with the Ashes. It's always a really big series, always hard-fought and really tough. It's what Test cricket is all about."
Michael Vaughan relishes the challenge on the eve of the Test.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo