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SA-England: A fascinating battle in prospect - Suneer Chowdhary Column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Jul 11, 2008
This is the seventh England-South Africa Test series after South Africa's re-admission into the international fold in 1991, and the two countries have dished out some memorable matches and equally forgettable incidents! As if to prove the same, the statistics could not get the team closer. The two have won nine matches each and twelve matches have been drawn and the series scoreline stands at 2-2. If Michael Artherton's mud-in-the-pocket incident is difficult to forget, so has been the bold forfeiture by Hansie Cronje that was later deemed to be a match tainted by the match-fixing scandal.

Devon Malcolm may have been an erratic, quick bowler all through his life, but even Steve Waugh has gone up to the extent of expressing surprise at England not playing him more regularly in his autobiography, "Out of My Comfort Zone." There was one such occasion when the Proteas would have wished the English didn't! Hit on the head by a Fanie de Villiers bouncer, Malcolm made a telling comment, "You guys are history" and then true to his word, messed up the whole batting line-up with a nine wicket haul! Artherton's all so famous unbeaten 185 and Allan Donald's fiery spell - and his battles - with this stubborn opener have all enthralled the audience world over.

The last series between the two nations had ended in England's favour, but that was during that amazing run of purple patch that the team was going through. Having beaten West Indies in a couple of series, England secured their first win in South Africa for forty years by beating the Springboks 2-1, in a very exciting series. This was in 2004-05; just months before England were to defeat Australia for the first time in Ashes for almost 18 years, and so is conveniently forgotten.

England's task in this series is obviously not easy. From the previous years, Marcus Trescothick is out of the fold, where as Andrew Strauss is trying his best to regain his lost form. England may have had the temptation of playing Andrew Flintoff, but have not been able to with his recurring injuries, while Hoggard and Harmison have both lost favour with the selectors. In contrast, this South African team heavily relies on pace bowlers, and in Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, they have two of the most reliable ones. On pitches that seam and swing around a bit, Steyn's 150 kmph outswingers would be hard to handle for the opponents, while Nel, Morkel or even the injury prone Zondeki could do the third seamer's role to perfection. Jacques Kallis may have lost out on pace, but he is still a more than useful all-rounder who would relish the English conditions.

The toss-up, for South Africa, would be between playing Paul Harris or go for an all-out pace attack, and more often than not, they may go for the former option. Unless of course, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the pitch and the outfield!

The South African batting line-up revolves heavily around one of the heaviest scorers in Test cricket, Jacques Kallis, and the prolific scoring, skipper, Graeme Smith. That said, Hashim Amla is slowly establishing his place in the side as a permanent fixture, and if his form in the tour games is anything to go by, he is a man to watch out for. Neil McKenzie may claim to have overcome his over-zealous superstitions, but it would be worth a watch whether he actually backs it up with the mountains of runs that he could score.

The English, in contrast, look a little unsettled. Andrew Strauss is just making a comeback, though he looked in fine fettle in his previous matches, but the problem is lower down. Strauss and skipper Vaughan were the only two Englishmen to cross 200 runs in the series against Kiwis, while Stuart Broad came in at the number four in the top run scoring list in the England team in the same series! Collingwood, Bell and Cook had all disappointed, and they would need to come to the part if England needs to compete in the series.

One feels that South Africa has a slight edge over England, at least to begin with, but in a four Test series, the forms could fluctuate in any direction once the momentum has been established. For now, it's over to Lord's for the first Test match between the two countries starting Thursday.
 
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