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January 2, 2010
Having rekindled Ashes memories with their draw at Centurion, followed by Stuart Broad's and Graeme Swann's second-innings demolition of South Africa in Durban, England are now hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened against Australia. Leading the series 1-0, with a chance to take an unassailable lead at Headingley, they imploded in little more than seven sessions.
At Newlands a similar chance awaits and this time they want to make it count. As the Ashes showed, England are not at their most comfortable when ahead in a contest. Being favourites, as they now are in many people's eyes for this series, doesn't sit naturally with a team that prefer to be classed as underdogs. They need show that they can respond to the pressure of expectation and Andrew Strauss wants his team to prove they can stay ahead.
"You want to be ruthless and just as desperate to win when you're up," said Strauss. "Sometimes there's a thing in the back of your mind that you can pat yourselves on the back a little bit and think 'we've got some breathing space'.
"But as soon as you think like that, you're going to get beaten pretty quickly. It's important to learn how to win when you're up and be just as clinical and not give the opposition a sniff. We hope we can do that this week"
History doesn't bode well for them, though, and not only because of the Headingley experience last year. Their three most recent visits to Cape Town have resulted in defeats by 10 wickets, an innings and 37 runs and 196 runs. There will also be the expectation from thousands of England fans - many arriving just for this Test - who will want a repeat of the performance at Kingsmead.
"You don't win a Test match on day one. But it's very, very important that you start the Test match well - so that the opposition don't get on top of you," said Strauss. "It's very much a case of keeping our feet on the ground. I've seen enough instances of teams losing one week and then coming back to win the next to know that nothing is guaranteed.
"If we're slightly off our game we'll get a pretty rude surprise. In a lot of ways that is the kind of lesson we learned from Headingley in the Ashes when we started talking about 'we could finish it this week; let's realise our dreams', and all that sort of stuff.
"We should have been talking about just winning the first hour. That's very much been the talk in the dressing room so far - right back to square one again, work hard to contest every over and hope, if we do that well enough, we'll get into a position to win the game later on in the week."
It has been noticeable in the days since the victory in Durban how measured the noises from the England camp have been. Andy Flower, as is his style, was very restrained on Friday and kept reiterating that the series is only half-way through and Strauss is singing from the same hymn sheet.
"There have been a lot of people telling us how great we were. It's important we don't read too much into that," he said. "It's very much a case of being desperate to win again and I like the feeling in the dressing room at the moment."
England's trump card could again be Graeme Swann. He already has 14 wickets in the series and the Newlands pitch can assist spinners later in the game. Last year Paul Harris claimed six wickets in the second innings, and nine in the match against Australia, so South Africa are going to have to combat the spin threat.
Strauss will hope he can name an unchanged side for the third match running and the chances of that increased with a positive report on Paul Collingwood's dislocated finger. He had a lengthy net against pace bowling and also tested his injury with some slip catching, although he may have to be protected in the field.
"At this stage, everything looks fine. He was batting without any real discomfort," Strauss said. "We're very hopeful, barring any last-minute incidents." He's obviously contributed a huge amount, both this series and previously and is an experienced player as well so it would have been a shame if he missed out."