Let the Test battle begin!
Sport24 columnist Colin Bryden (File)
The South African Cricket team sing Happy Birthday to our international icon, Nelson Mandela.
It is comforting that Jacques Kallis believes South Africa have had adequate preparation for the Test series against England, which starts at the Oval on Thursday.
On a day when the sun made a rare appearance during a wet summer, the South African players were hard at work in nets set up on the Oval outfield before Kallis asserted that the players had done all they needed to do before taking on the world's number one ranked team.
Much as one has to respect Kallis's experience, it is a fact that most of the South Africans will barely have renewed acquaintance with bat and ball before stepping on to what is a hoodoo ground for South African teams.
Here, though, one has to agree with Kallis that not too much should be read into history. As he said: "I don't think there is a reason why we haven't played well here. We've got to do what we've been doing for the last couple of weeks and not worry about the ground or the opposition."
He was similarly philosophical about his own surprisingly poor batting record over three series in England - an average of 29.30 compared to a Test career average of 56.78.
It will be important, however, for Kallis to be at his best over the next month against an England attack which is slightly better balanced than South Africa's, if only because they have a crafty, highly competitive off-spinner in Graeme Swann, whose record is much better than that of Imran Tahir, South Africa's leg-spinner.
Hitting the ground running will be the objective of both teams and for that reason the battle between the two captains will be crucial. Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith are both opening batsmen and can set the tone for their teams. It may have been more than coincidence that when Strauss had a poor series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, the rest of the England batting struggled.
Similarly, Smith has a phenomenal record in England - an average of 72.20 - and played a huge role when South Africa won the last series here in 2008. If Smith is in form, he tends to dominate and the rest of the batsmen can take their cue from him.
Having seen the scores from South Africa's two warm-up matches, it is a worry that South Africa's formidable pace trio, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, may not have bowled enough to be at maximum efficiency from the first ball.
It promises to be a thrilling series - if rain does not play too big a part - and I certainly don't intend to stake any of my pension on the outcome.Colin Bryden will be covering the England-South Africa series. He has reported on all four of South Africa’s previous tours of England since 1994.
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