England v South Africa, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston July 29, 2008

Fourth time lucky for South Africa?

Match facts

Wednesday July 30 to Sunday August 3, 2008
Start time 11.00 (10.00GMT)

Paul Collingwood: recalled to the team despite a poor first-class record this season © Getty Images

Big Picture

In any other contest, there'd be no question where the balance of power currently lies. After the drubbing that England received at Headingley, and the destabilising recriminations that followed, South Africa would appear to be in total command of this series. And yet, whenever these two teams meet, you just know there's a twist lurking around the corner. On three occasions since readmission, South Africa have taken the lead in England with a brutally emphatic victory - 356 runs in 1994, 10 wickets in 1998, an innings and 92 runs in 2003. Not once, however, have they managed to convert that start into a series win. At the halfway mark, the tourists have the upper hand, but do they have the mental strength to build on their early advantage?

Form guide

England LDWWD
South Africa WDLWD

Watch out for...

Paul Collingwood: Back in England's starting line-up, and desperate to make amends for his woeful recent form, Collingwood has a sum total of 92 runs in nine first-class innings this year, and he hasn't made a Test century since West Indies visited his home ground of Chester-le-Street in June 2007. But in a batting line-up that has invited accusations of mental fragility, Collingwood is a player whose temperament is nothing less than rock-solid. He was missed at Headingley, where England folded with scarcely a whimper in both innings.

Andre Nel: A gentle giant off the pitch, Nel takes white-line fever to pantomime extremes of absurdity with his alter-ego, "Gunther", a madman who lives in the mountains in Germany and suffers from oxygen deprivation. The nickname was bestowed on him a few years ago by one of the South African technical team, and given the snarling and grimacing that marks his average performance, it has unsurprisingly stuck. "Gunther will definitely be coming out - there's no doubt about that," said Nel, as he prepared to take the field in his first Test since the West Indies series in January. South Africa will be without Dale Steyn, but their aggression levels will remain pumped to the max.

Team news

England's chaotic selection process at Headingley last week has been swept very quickly under the carpet. Darren Pattinson might as well be the figment of a fevered imagination as Ryan Sidebottom waltzes back into the team after his back problems. Collingwood returns in place of the jaded Stuart Broad, whose magnificent batting could not distract from a bowling average that is rapidly moving into negative equity. And Steve Harmison remains on the sidelines for the eighth match running - although if England's four-prong attack fails to take 20 wickets in this match, he could yet make his comeback at The Oval next week.

England 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Andrew Strauss, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt), 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Tim Ambrose (wk), 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 Monty Panesar, 11 James Anderson

South Africa remain the more settled of the two sides, although the loss of Dale Steyn is a major blow - especially given the hold he has had over England's captain, Michael Vaughan, all series. Andre Nel is a more-than-adequate replacement, although South Africa's pace attack does now have a certain amount of sameness to it, with three bowlers who prefer to bang it in rather than pitch it up and swing it. There could yet be another change to their team if Graeme Smith is forced out of the side because of his back problems. If that happened, JP Duminy would come in as opener, and Ashwell Prince would take over as captain.

South Africa 1 Graeme Smith/JP Duminy, 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 Andre Nel, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

Umpires: Steve Davis and Aleem Dar

© weather.com

Pitch and conditions

Steve Rouse, the groundsman - and a Warwickshire stalwart for 40 years - predicts that his pitch will favour the swing bowlers rather than the hit-the-deckers, and he also imagines that it will break up as the game goes on, to bring the spinners into play. Both factors, on the face of it, seem to favour England, although it promises to be another crucial toss. The weather will also play its part. Torrential rain on Monday night heralded the start of an unsettled week.

Stats and Trivia

  • Edgbaston remains one of England's favourite venues, statistically, with 22 wins and seven losses in 42 Tests since 1902.

  • South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, made his highest Test score at this venue, 277 on the 2003 tour.

  • Andrew Flintoff is another key player who enjoys the Edgbaston wicket. He averages 48.66 in six Tests, including his highest Test score of 167 against West Indies in 2004.


    "Like Lord's, I have terrific memories of [the Edgbaston Test in] 2003. I don't think I could have dreamt of starting with a double-hundred. In fact, I was unsure whether to bat or bowl first, so hopefully it will be clearer tomorrow."
    Smith reminisces about his 277 on his last visit to Edgbaston, in his maiden Test in England

    "I don't feel under any extra pressure than I have done in the last two to three years. I've always had these blips in form and I'm confident I can come through them."
    Vaughan faces up to the fact that he has mustered only 23 runs in three innings in this series.

    Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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