Buoyant Eng loom for Proteas

2012-07-03 22:06
Gary Kirsten (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – It is just as well that Gary Kirsten, South Africa’s coach, detects a particularly keen sense of enthusiasm in his troops immediately ahead of their long tour of England.

For while the Proteas’ Test squad spend a few days in Switzerland designed to crank up that motivation and bonding even more, the host nation’s broad cricketing psyche is fast approaching what seems a near all-time high.

On Wednesday England play Australia, for so long a nemesis but not anymore, in the third of five one-day internationals, a day/night affair at Edgbaston.

Weather permitting – and this is yet another UK summer marked so far by its persistent sogginess – Alastair Cook and company will strive to clinch the series surprisingly early; they are already 2-0 to the good after commendably clear-cut triumphs at Lord’s and The Oval where the Aussies, frankly, were outclassed.

It would be in the Proteas’ interests, arguably, for the team now coached by Mickey Arthur to mount some sort of a spirited rearguard in that series.

Although the Test and ODI codes are significantly different, of course, the majority of England’s currently smooth-firing limited-overs side will also be turning out in the top-of-table Test series starting on July 19 at The Oval which is, undoubtedly, the high point of the English season.

You just get a sense that England’s cricketers are generally in a very good space at present, and it is instructive to hear even the great, ultra-confident Shane Warne lamenting in commentary what he considers to be a touch of English “arrogance” during the ODIs against the slightly embattled outfit he used to represent with such aplomb.

When an Australian legend suddenly bemoans English assertiveness, a boot can be said to have transferred quite dramatically to another foot, can’t it?

Certainly England fans will be walking with a rare swagger, just as the Proteas prepare to do battle in that country, if the Aussies are clean-swept 5-0.

That outcome would mean an unprecedented laurel going the English way even before hostilities get under way against Graeme Smith’s team: simultaneous world No 1 status in all of Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 internationals.

It would be a great feather to the home cap entering the much-touted combat against the Proteas, which involves three Tests, five ODIs and three T20 internationals.

England currently lie fourth in the ODI ladder, below Australia, South Africa and India in that order, but they are all tightly bunched and 5-0 would see the English catapult to the top.

Their bowling attack, which in both Tests and ODIs hardly lacks for options in the seam department and contains the considerable off-spin skills of Graeme Swann as well, is firing collectively smoothly while someone like Ian Bell, on the batting front, has been an instant beneficiary of Kevin Pietersen’s retirement from ODIs at the relatively young age of only 31.

He is looking a revelation in SA-born Pietersen’s old spot at the top of the limited-overs order.

Additionally, two players who are bidding for the No 6 spot (perhaps England’s only relative weakness) in the Test side against South Africa – Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan -- have been in forceful early ODI form against the Aussies.

As much as the Test series is rightly commanding most of the advance hype, the one-day series immediately afterwards looks like having a genuine cutting edge too.

South Africa do have a bit of a score to settle on that front – they were ghastly in that phase of the 2008 tour, undoing much of the yeoman work in triumphing 2-1 in the Test series by crashing listlessly 4-0 in the ODIs, including an especially abject 10-wicket loss at Trent Bridge where they were rolled for 83.

It is a slightly sobering thought that only a few months ago the Proteas lost 2-1 in a home ODI series to the very Aussie side presently under the cosh in England, although those were also very early days of Kirsten’s coaching regime.

Every sign at present points to a great need for South Africa, despite coming out of their own off-season and all the pitfalls that can entail, to hit the ground running against Andrew Strauss’s team in well less than three weeks from now.

Can they achieve that?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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