England v South Africa, 2008 July 9, 2008

Six to watch

A look at individuals who are expected to make a difference in the series

Steyn will be South Africa's trump, and Boucher will be expected to turn in a solid all-round performance © AFP

South Africa will start as favourites to win the Test match series against England. It kicks off at Lord's tomorrow and the desire to be successful at cricket's most famous venue will be uppermost in the minds of Graeme Smith's team. South Africa would do well to remember that England are a better and more settled Test match outfit than a one-day side, but if South Africa play to potential they simply hold too many punches for England.

They have batsmen capable of dominating England's attack. They have a powerful pace attack capable of sustaining good pace all day long on any given surface. Inconsistency at times with the ball and a touch of inexperience in certain batting positions are their only concerns. They have the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world, catch well behind the wicket, and their outfielding is as good as it gets.

England, on the other hand, are without their talisman, Andrew Flintoff. South Africa have genuine respect for him and will be well pleased he is not playing. England still have a good all-round unit, though, and seem to have all areas covered. While they may lack South Africa's genuine pace, their attack offers nip and bounce, swing and consistency. Panesar's spin may prey on South Africa's complacency or over-confidence. It is England's batting that is questionable: a few players are struggling for form and the tail is rather long and lacking in skill to deal with the likes of Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Their fielding lacks intensity and determination at times. Man for man, England don't match South Africa, and if they are to win it will be through individual brilliance and not as a collective unit.

For my money, the players to watch and the most influential in deciding the series are:

Jacques Kallis This will probably be Kallis' last tour of England. He will want all of England to remember him for a long time to come. He enjoys the responsibility of keeping the South African batting together and has the skills and temperament to survive whatever England throw at him under any given conditions. All the batsmen in the team seek his advice and look to follow his example. Don't forget his contribution with the ball and his good hands behind the wicket. Look no further than Kallis for a Man-of-the-Series punt.

Dale Steyn Steyn's ability to swing the ball at real pace is his great asset. He will run in all day for Smith. His experience in county cricket has taught him to bowl an "English" length. He has also learnt to vary his pace and has become a much smarter operator of late. With him, Ntini and Morkel around, England will do well to get off to good starts. Steyn debuted against England in South Africa and took a pasting at the hands of Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick. He has not forgotten this and has a point to prove. He could very well make or break it for South Africa.

Mark Boucher Boucher and Smith install a sense of belief and purpose in the team. Along with Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla and Ashwell Prince in the top six, Boucher will be called on to perform with the bat. His dogged determination will be much needed on this tour and he will have to score more runs than he perhaps realises. He relishes the challenge and would dearly love to win in England. His contribution from behind the stumps is what the bowlers look to the most, and in this role will have to be more observant than ever before.

Pietersen has a good record against South Africa; Vaughan could be a threat if he overcomes Steyn early © Getty Images

Michael Vaughan If Vaughan bats well, England could hold their own. Under his captaincy they are a better team. He and Kevin Pietersen can take the game away from South Africa. His ability to focus and not be distracted under pressure is what the England team feed off. He is a rhythmical batsman who may find the South African bowlers to his liking - except Steyn, who he has battled against in the past. If he overcomes Steyn early in the series, he could be in for a very good one. He needs to lead from the front with form and example, for the South African attack will go after him. Paul Harris could be a significant threat, as Vaughan tends to get his pad in the way early on.

Kevin Pietersen He is the player the South African side will discuss the most. Pietersen has a good record against South Africa and has already proved his mental strength and determination under pressure against them. Only he can allow himself to be distracted and play the man instead of the ball. South Africa will have a plan for him and will try and isolate him, something England must thwart at all costs. They need to protect him and allow him to play his natural game. My only concern is that his defensive abilities and powers have got loose of late, and his single-mindedness sometimes deserts him. Smith will throw his quicks at him or tease him early on with Harris. He will play on Pietersen's problematic ego.

James Anderson Anderson's unpredictability will make him the most discussed English bowler by the South African batsmen. He lacks Steyn's consistency and sustained pace but nevertheless on his day is just as good. Together with Ryan Sidebottom he could very well have South Africa in early trouble as genuine swing is not something South African batsmen are used to. Smith and McKenzie are vulnerable in this regard early as their footwork gets out of sync. Amla and Prince are yet to deal with a swinging Duke ball under English conditions. If Anderson has a purple patch he could very well be England's best performer. However, his lack of belief and physical presence seem to be his biggest problems.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prince on July 11, 2008, 15:52 GMT

    I just have seen people commenting that Sangakkara is the worst gloveman amongst Boucher,McCullum,& Sangakkara.Well,how ridiculous is that ? Is it Sangakkara's fault that he plays in the team that has the greatest (off)spinner of all time,who takes lots of wickets via close catchers,lbws & bowled?Boucher & McCullum play in pace oriented teams,where,apart from Vettori,there is no other spinner(please don't shout about the Harrises & Bojes)& thus Boucher & McCullum can have lots of edges coming their way.Sanga has shown his clinical brilliance while keeping to Murali in turning tracks.Clinical cricket analysers would agree that the best way to judge a keeper is by observing his skills whilst keeping to high class spin.By all accounts,there is no other keeper(apart from Dhoni,potentially,his test batting development is the criteria,but even there he averages more than Boucher)who can claim to be of Sangakkara's class in wicket keeping & batting abilities.

  • jay on July 11, 2008, 7:22 GMT

    My prediction on the man of the series- Kevin Pietersen (obvious) and my top six- Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Strauss, Ryan Sidebottom, Greame Smith, J Kallis, Dale Steyn

  • Vatsal on July 11, 2008, 3:35 GMT

    My list of six:


    Kevin Pietersen, Monty Panesar and Ryan Sidebottom


    Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn , Morne Morkel

  • Prince on July 10, 2008, 16:04 GMT

    SA have the best wicket-keeper-batsman ? What kind of a joke is this ? Does Boucher have the credentials to match Kumar Sangakkara,now that Gilchrist is gone ? A batsman with about 5 hundreds in about 120 tests is in no way a match for a batsman with about 20 hundreds from 60-70 odd tests.Why,even Boucher's keeping cannot be said to be of the same class as Sangakkara's.Boucher has never kept to world-class spinners,whereas Sanga has shown his wicket-keeping brilliance against Warne,Murali,Kumble,& Harbhajan while playing for different teams.There is no doubt what so ever that Sanga is now the best wicket keeping batsman now by a country mile,followed by Dhoni.Boucher might come level with McCullum,but I suspect McCullum is ahead of him as well.In fact,going by records,Sanga has been the best ever wicket keeping batsman of all time-for the past 4 years at least-please refer to the records if you have doubts.Just having over 400 dismissals from 120 tests doesn't make you the best WKB.

  • Vivek on July 10, 2008, 15:02 GMT

    Hope he s got a short term memory loss. How could he forget Andrew Strauss - the man who destroyed SA in his first ever series against them??? Strauss will definitely make as difference as he has always done in the past. England have always ridden on his composed and steady starts.

  • Dunnama on July 10, 2008, 13:11 GMT

    Mr Cullinan being a South African, Seems to be a bit baised. You can only Messure a success of a good allround WK is by keeping to likes of Warne, Murali, Kumble etc.Boucher For that matter is nowhere close to being the best Wicket Keeper let alone a batsman. As a Batsman Boucher is no where close to Sangakkara, Flower or Gilchrist. No 1 wicket Keeper Batsmen today is non other than Sangakkara.

  • Mohammad on July 10, 2008, 10:28 GMT

    Mr.Cullinan.. your experience is vast...but silly you did by not mentioning names of Sidebottom and Amla respectively in (Players to watch)...Amla will be the man to watch in the whole series..from the starting of tour..he shot so much from his bat..And about Sidebottom i don't have to say anything about him..if the cricket's regulars are reading this..about your prediction about Anderson and your praise about him...sure gonna sink..sorry for any harsh words used

  • Biso on July 9, 2008, 16:09 GMT

    I do agree that SA are a more balanced and better side than England. But, I would like to see several SA batsmen handle the moving ball. The Indian pacers had exposed several of their batsmen on helpful pitches during the last Indian team's tour of SA. Having said that I must also confess that English batsmen barring a couple or three are poor players of the moving ball,which is surprising. The Indian pacers have already proven that. As for handling real pace and bounce,England are again at disadvantage as only the obvious three ( Vaughan, Pietersen and Bell)can handle that.My reading- England will struggle to save matches.

  • Ryan on July 9, 2008, 14:22 GMT

    To settle the boucher Sangakarra, McCullum issue, lets look at the stats.

    Sangakarra is by far the best batsmen out of the group, averaging 55.19 in tests, but is by far the worst gloveman, averaging 2.356 dismissals per test.

    McCullum averages 31.42 with the bat,and averages 3.057 dismissals per test match.

    Boucher averages 30.02 with the bat and 3.78 dimissals per test.

    Also just to respond to Shamz007. Nowhere in this article does Cullinan compare SA to Aus. Comparing them to England they are stronger.

    When it comes to the glovework, Boucher definetly has the heads up, Sangakarra has the heads up with the bat. If I had to choose a team, I would have Sangakarra in my team as a batsman, and Boucher as my keeper/ batsman. McCullum might have a very slight edge over Boucher with the bat, but his glovework does not compare. Sangakarra is Batsman who can keep, Boucher is a keeper who can bat.

  • Tony on July 9, 2008, 13:23 GMT

    With regards to Sam23, just for the record the South Africans have not lost a test series in the last 6 they have played, which includes 2 series against India who happen to be above England in the rankings. Also who have England beaten recently? oh of course New Zealand, who are ranked second from bottom in the rankings. Come on SA.

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