England must pick Wright - Thorpe
With just a two-day warm-up match left before the England selectors have to finalise the make-up of their side, Graham Thorpe has called for Luke Wright's inclusion in Andrew Flintoff's old No. 7 spot. Wright has not yet played a Test for England and has a modest success in his 28 one-day outings so far, but Thorpe felt he was the kind of attacking option England need if they were going to win the series.
"He could come in and be an impact bowler. I see him bowling short, aggressive spells of five or six overs, really mixing it up," Thorpe said at an npower urban cricket event at Lord's.
That would mean playing five batsmen with Matt Prior at six but Thorpe said this was the best option for England: "They have to gamble and go with five bowlers. If you look at it logically, how else are we going to get 20 wickets?"
Ian Bell would be the man to miss out, the Test after his first-innings 72 helped England to Ashes victory at the Oval, but Thorpe felt the batting was strong enough to succeed in South African conditions.
"Once the Kookaburra ball goes soft there is no swing and if the batsmen are hungry and show enough desire, we should go out and get big runs," he said. "Morne Morkel has been out of form recently and [Makhaya] Ntini doesn't have the same zip and pace as before, so if you back yourself to get through the first 20 to 25 overs, there are runs to be made."
Thorpe was part of Michael Vaughan's England team that won in 2004-05 and he believed there were lessons Andrew Strauss's men can heed from that experience. "If you get the psychological shift where you make them feel like they've got nothing else and they can only lose, that is when you can turn them over," he said.
With concerns over Anderson's fitness growing, Thorpe admitted it would be a huge blow if he pulled up short. "He's developed in the last year, he knows when it's in his favour and when he has to hold it back," he said. "The one thing he has is the ability to take wickets up front."
Early wickets are the factor Thorpe said will determine the series and he suggested it was something both sides could struggle with. "The main area will be the opening bowlers. If you go and ask the local South Africans, they are not sure their attack can take 20 wickets and it's probably England's concern as well. Whichever side takes the most wickets in the first 20 overs will give themselves the best chance of winning the series.
"Both sides will get an opportunity at some stage and it depends on whether they are brave enough to take it, that's where the series will be won or lost. Steyn can do real damage, if he really hits his straps then he can put South Africa in a strong position."
With the opening bowlers and batsmen playing a crucial role, Alastair Cook is under pressure, especially after being earmarked to captain England in Bangladesh if Andrew Strauss opts out of the tour to rest.
"Cook does need a good series, he's got a lot of pressure on him in terms of being labelled for the position," said Thorpe. "Against the top sides his performances have been below par and he hasn't consistently scored runs against the top sides. But he could clear all that in one series. If he goes and has a great series his position is solid again.
"One thing you can't doubt about Cook is his mental ability. You have to back that for as long as you can because the mental side of the highest level is what gives you longevity."
Sahil Dutta is assistant editor of Cricinfo