England Vs South Africa
- Mouthwatering Battle Of The Greats
By Richard Browne
The battle for the coveted Test number one ranking is nearly upon us, sadly only a three match series due to the strange decision to have a meaningless ODI series against Australia, but mouth wateringly intoxicating all the same.
The personal rivalries that make up cricket are all part of the great appeal and this series has some absolute humdingers.
Best quick in the world.
James Anderson the whippy swinger who leads the English attack versus the ferocious Dale Steyn a man who is scary to look at let alone face from 22 yards.
Anderson has become a complete master of his craft, bringing a spinners precision to the swing bowling art he has perfected. He always seems to strike with the new ball and contrary to perceived wisdom has become a tormentor of left handers by bowling out swingers from around the wicket to them. He can, of course bowl inswingers from over the wicket – he can pretty much do what he wants. Down on pace from his early years but hugely up on consistency, he is the main man in this English team.
In the green corner Steyn is nursing a battered ego, with Philander’s 19th centuryesque start to his Test career, taking the headlines away from Steyn. Steyn though once he has found his rhythm, which takes time and may be hindered by the short build up, is devastating. Operating in the mid 140’s with late outswing and enough aggression to scare a pack of wolves, he’s more mercurial than Anderson but on his day will run through a batting line up quicker.
Very different number 4’s
Two South African born monsters, hugely different men, but both match winners with contrasting methods of run scoring.
Pietersen remains a divisive figure in English cricket and has never quite shaken off the tag of being a cricketing mercenary. He tends to perform against the best though and with no love lost between him and the Proteas, will be hugely up for this one.
More orthodox against the quicks than when he first appeared on the international scene, he is unstoppable if you get to near his pads and with his huge stride can make half volleys out of good length balls. South Africa will be looking to play on his patience, hoping his ego won’t allow a succession of leaves outside off.
Kallis is a giant of the game, who by his standards has an average record in England and on what will probably be his last tour, will be keen to rectify this anomaly. Further motivation to win for his great mate Boucher, so cruelly denied one last series by a freak eye injury, could see a deluge of runs. A man without a weakness at the crease, T20 cricket has benefited his game, giving him a greater array of strokes and a different outlook that has translated to quicker scoring in Tests.
The two most successful captains in the game, both left handed openers, who have forged reputations on leadership and man management qualities rather than tactical genius.
Strauss is back in the runs after a lean patch and when in form he tends to be a hundred man, with a great record at the Oval and Lords where two of the Tests are to be held. He has the complete respect of his team and is superb at judging referrals, which could be crucial with two such closely matched teams and not easy with the excitable Prior and Broad in his ear. Practical rather than an innovator and able to soak up ideas from his lieutenants, with Strauss at the helm, England will never panic.
Smith has had nearly a decade at skipper of the South African side and has become an outwardly more confident and approachable figure. A good tour of New Zealand will have helped his confidence after taking a battering over yet another World Cup flop. Like Strauss when in form he is a hundred man and tends to go bigger than his English counterpart. Merciless off his pads and also like Strauss an avid chewer of gum at first slip, it will be interesting to see how he uses his leggie Tahir, having for the first time in his career an attacking rather holding spinner at his disposal.
The similarities go on. Two orthodox numbers threes who know the value of crease occupation and the limits of their own game, Trott and Amla have very similar records and could conceivably have been fighting it out for the same spot in the South African line up.
Broad and Morkel two beanpole quicks will be going head to head as well. Broad has more of the dog about him and greater consistency. Morkel sometimes seems too laid back and can blow hot and cold in the same spell. When he gets it right though he’s a horrible bowler and being demoted to first change, with the arrival of Philanderer may provide the surge the friendly giant needs to step up to the big boys class of quickies.
It has been even by English standards an appallingly wet summer, the rain has to stop at some point. The greener spongier wickets normally seen in May not August, will probably help the English a little more, for familiarity if nothing else.
Will England spring a surprise at the Oval and produce a crumbler like they did against the Aussie’s in 2009, in the hope that Swann will do his business? I reckon they might just to that, but whatever happens weather permitting cricket fans around the world are in for a feast. Very rarely are we treated to two outstanding teams being around at the same time.