Can Graeme Smith and his team conquer The Oval? © Getty Images
 

The days leading into this Test have seen an upheaval in England's ranks, but Graeme Smith and his team - the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy firmly in hand - face a tough ask at The Oval, where they haven't won in 12 previous attempts. Their streak of 12 Tests without a win at The Oval is a record for any team at any ground, and Kevin Pietersen, in his first Test as England captain, will aim to consign them to a 13th without success. If South Africa do win, however, and take the series 3-0 it will be England's most emphatic loss at home since Australia drubbed them 4-1 in 2001.

The Oval has been a nightmare for bowlers of late, as suggested by S Rajesh in the Numbers Game. A dead batting strip has led to three draws in the most recent Tests; last year, India amassed 664, with Anil Kumble scoring his maiden ton in his 118th Test.

Teams have averaged 40.24 per wicket at The Oval since 2000, while the average for other English grounds in the same period has been 34.05. The last eight Tests at The Oval have produced 19 hundreds but only eight five-fors. The average for this series has been 40.52 per wicket, though South Africa's average of 46.52 outstrips England's 35.77. (Click here to see the batting averages at English grounds since 2000, and here for the results at The Oval since 2000.)

England have won two of the last six Tests at The Oval - the other four were draws - while South Africa are the only team that have batted first and lost at the venue since 2000. Teams winning the toss have opted to bat six out of eight times; West Indies lost after bowling first in 2000.

For England, Pietersen will be looking to improve on his two centuries in three matches at The Oval, besides avoiding the same fate that Michael Vaughan met in his first Test as captain: losing to South Africa by an innings and 92 runs. With Stuart Broad preferred over Ravi Bopara in the XI, Andrew Flintoff will bat at No. 6, and he will take confidence from his record at the venue. Ian Bell, who will play at No. 3 slot in Vaughan's place, hasn't fared too well, neither has Paul Collingwood.

England's current batting line-up at The Oval
Player Innings Runs Average 100/50
Kevin Pietersen 6 410 68.33 2/1
Andrew Strauss 8 274 39.14 1/1
Andrew Flintoff 4 247 61.75 0/3
Alastair Cook 4 227 56.75 0/2
Ian Bell 7 218 36.33 0/3
Paul Collingwood 6 150 30.00 0/1

Steve Harmison has been included in England's XI, replacing Ryan Sidebottom. He's got the most wickets at The Oval among the current crop, with 18 in four Tests - his 4 for 33 hurtling South Africa towards defeat on their previous visit in 2003. Monty Panesar and Paul Harris average over 40 in the current series, and it's unlikely they will improve on those figures, with spinners averaging 51.73 at the ground since 2003. Fast bowlers haven't done too spectacularly either, conceding 39.57 runs per wicket.

England's current bowling line-up at The Oval
Player Matches Wickets Average Strike-rate
Steve Harmison 4 18 24.38 43.6
James Anderson 3 13 34.23 51.7
Andrew Flintoff 3 9 30.55 56.0
Paul Collingwood 3 3 27.00 54.0
Monty Panesar 2 3 106.66 186.0

The top order has been successful in making use of easy conditions at The Oval, with the first three wickets averaging over 50 per stand. England's batsmen have also worked well in tandem.

Partnerships for each wicket at The Oval since 2000
Wicket Average 100s/ 50s England average 100s/ 50s
First 60.92 4/9 58.28 2/5
Second 55.28 4/9 49.76 2/4
Third 51.72 4/5 48.46 2/2
Fourth 43.36 3/6 44.84 2/3
Fifth 48.26 4/4 48.58 2/2
Sixth 39.04 0/9 45.16 0/6
Seventh 23.42 0/1 16.00 0/0
Eighth 24.04 1/2 31.27 1/1
Ninth 25.33 0/3 30.54 0/3
Tenth 17.63 0/3 16.70 0/1

Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo