|Ground:||Kennington Oval, Kennington|
|Event:||South Africa in England 2012|
DateLine: 18th July 2012
England v South Africa, 1st Test, preview
England face South Africa in challenging series
While West Indies were comfortably beaten in the first Investec Test series and Australia's one-day side whitewashed, this is now the series which will show the true strength of the England team. The series has been eagerly awaited and will no doubt provide much excitement in this sodden summer. South Africa havenít suffered a series loss in the last six years and England, currently the No.1 side in world rankings, have not been unbeaten at home since 2008 when they went down 2-1 to their present opponents in 2008.
England captain, Andrew Strauss, fully aware of the tourists' strength said: "They are a very fine side, they have proved that over the last couple of years and they will be determined to knock us from our perch. I am certainly very excited about it, I think it would be a good gauge for us as to where we are, the rankings say we are No. 1 but we have got to go out there and prove that."
Asked if it will be the biggest challenge yet for England batsmen to be facing South Africa's excellent pace attack, Strauss said: "They have a very fine bowling attack, the rankings say that and the individual records, so it's going to be a stern challenge. There are no easy Test attacks to face, we are not approaching it any differently, we always respect the opposition, we always expect it to be hard work to overcome and we'll be going in there with that attitude tomorrow.
"I have always felt that South Africa have adapted to English conditions as well as any other team so we expect them to be a very stern challenge. They have a proud record, they have played a lot of good cricket over an extended period of time and they have got a lot of experienced campaigners, so if we are looking for an easy three match series we are barking up the wrong tree, it's going to be a stern test for us and one that we are very excited about overcoming."
Asked if he thought the series is going to be overshadowed by the Olympics taking place during much of the time of the series, Strauss said: "From the messages and chats that I've had with people it seems this (series) is very much the highlight of the summer for cricket followers and I don't think it's going to be overshadowed, I think it will go along concurrently with what is going on at the Olympic games."
Answering a question about comparing the bowlers of the two sides, England captain said: "I'm very comfortable with our bowling attack it's a match for any side in the world, I think we've proved that continuously over the last three or four years. They (South Africa) are all good bowlers they are all different, they bring something else to the party so itís a challenge and one that we are all prepared for."
South Africa captain, Graeme Smith, well aware of the fact that they will replace England at the top of world rankings if they win the series said: "There is a real feeling of contentment and character within the squad, we've certainly had more preparation time than we have on most of our tours and all of us are excited about starting the series tomorrow." Speaking about the bowling attack of the two sides, he said: "The records and what the two bowling attacks have achieved (show it) but we have now moved forward into (another) series and we are hoping that they can carry on from where they have left off in the past, there are new heights for them to create hopefully."
Having suffered a major blow with the loss of wicket-keeper Mark Boucher through an eye injury, the gloves will be worn by AB de Villiers and asked if that might affect his batting, Smith said: "Hopefully not, he is a guy that deals with things pretty well that come his way and he is a really talented cricketer and hopefully it will bring out the best out of him. The extra responsibility which he has proved with his one-day captaincy and the Twenty20 captaincy with the way he has played, hopefully this responsibility will bring out the best out of him."
Speaking about playing his 100th Test today, Smith, who has been the longest serving captain with nine years as leader said: "I've prepared as normal, it's a big series, I'm extremely proud of the fact that Iím going to play my 100th Test for South Africa. It doesn't come easy, if I wasn't proud of it there would be something wrong with me but there is a bigger thing at stake and that is the next 15 days of cricket and myself and the team have been really focused on that. They way people have made it special for me obviously means a lot but itís going to come down to cricket at the end of the day and thatís what Iíve been focusing on."
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2012 Andy Jalil)