England ready for tour opener
Bloemfontein - After four days of quiet preparation, England open their tour of South Africa Friday with a 50-over match against the Eagles franchise team in Bloemfontein.
England have studiously avoided controversy and any temptation to make extravagant claims since they arrived last weekend.
They transferred directly to this quiet central South African city to take advantage of good practice facilities away from the limelight and big-city distractions.
Two solid days of net practice were followed by a middle practice on Wednesday to simulate match conditions before a thunderstorm cut them short. They were out in the middle again Thursday without any interruptions.
Veteran all-rounder Paul Collingwood told journalists Thursday that the players were satisfied with their efforts so far.
"We've been concentrating on our own preparation since we arrived here and not been too worried about any other issues," he said.
Collingwood said he expected a hard workout from the Eagles, who were runners-up in both domestic limited-over competitions last season.
"You know that when you are in Australia or South Africa the opposition are going to come hard at you and that they want to win," he said.
Eagles are likely to be capable opponents. They are captained by former South Africa player Boeta Dippenaar, who has had the opportunity to study many of the touring players during two seasons with English county Leicestershire.
The team includes wicketkeeper-batsman Morne van Wyk, who hit a record 168 not out in a 45-over franchise match last Friday, and four of South Africa's most promising young players in batsmen Rilee Rossouw, Reeza Hendricks and Dean Elgar and fast bowler CJ de Villiers.
The only leading player missing from the Eagles line-up is Ryan McLaren, who will join the South African limited-over squad Friday.
England have no fitness concerns apart from star batsman Kevin Pietersen, who will join the team only next week after recovering from a heel operation.
The tourists continue their warm-up phase with a match against the Warriors franchise in Kimberley Sunday and a 20-over contest against South Africa A in Bloemfontein next Tuesday.
The first of two Twenty20 internationals against South Africa will be in Johannesburg on November 13.