|Ground:||Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood|
|Scorecard:||England v South Africa|
|Event:||South Africa in England 2012|
DateLine: 15th August 2012
England v South Africa, 3rd Test, Preview In association with Investec. England will go into their most important Test match since taking over the No.1 Test ranking from India a year ago. The result of this third and final Test of the series against South Africa will determine whether they hold on to their position or be forced to hand over the spot to the opposition. Itís a match that England have to win to remain on top as they trail one nil in the series after defeat in the first Test, the second being drawn.
If the series ends all square it will be England's eighth undefeated series at home and that is a record that Andrew Strauss, the England captain, will want to keep intact on the occasion of reaching the milestone of his hundredth Test match, playing at the HQ of cricket. He could have done without the distraction brought on by the Kevin Pietersen 'texting' episode which has been the talking point since the end of the second Test last week.
His text messages which were sent to certain players were understood to be derogatory towards England and it came while he has an on-going issue with the England Cricket Board (ECB) with regard to his availability for playing for England in preference to his commitment to the IPL where matches would overlap with fixtures in England. On all these matters, his remarks to the media have been inappropriate and upsetting to the ECB, the team management and the players.
The selectors have omitted him from this Test match for disciplinary reasons despite his explosive innings of 149 in the last Test. Although he has apologised, the matter remains in the forefront. "During the past week we have held several discussions with Kevin Pietersen and his advisors," said Hugh Morris, the managing director of ECB. "Following a constructive meeting it was agreed that a number of actions needed to be completed to re-engage Kevin within the England dressing room."
Speaking on the eve of the Test, Strauss said: "It (the apology) is a step forward, it's a step in the right direction but this issue hasnít just been about the text messages it been on a bit more broader issue about trust and mutual respect and that issue I'm very keen to resolve but itís not going to be resolved overnight. If we are going to resolve those we will need to do it face to face away from the media spotlight. For the next five or six days my focus is going to be on the game of cricket and everyone involved in the England team has got to have a similar attitude to things."
"I would like Kevin to play for England again but only if we resolve the issues. We've got to bring stuff out in the open, we can't just have it swept under the carpet and I've no idea at this stage how that is going to work out. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it as we've got a very important Test match coming up. Once the match is over may be the dust will settle and we can map out a path way forward. I'm sure people at the ECB will be thinking what the way forward is over the next few days. I feel a little let down by Kevin, but it isn't just an issue between me and him, it's a broader issue than that."
On the team for the match, Strauss said: "We made a decision at Headingley (last Test) that four seamers are more likely to get something out of the wicket than Graeme (Swann, off spinner)) and in fact that wasn't the case but likewise we'll look at this wicket and make a decision accordingly." There is almost a certainty that Swann will be included in this Test and so will Jonny Bairstow to fill Pietersen's position. It will be his fourth Test having played three against West Indies earlier this summer.
South Africa captain, Graeme Smith, captaining his country for the 93rd time, (he has been captain in 94 Tests including the World X1 in 2005/6 in Sydney) said: "Obviously Kevin feels he has done something wrong and he has apologised for that whether that's to get back in the England set-up and sort out relationships that's obviously the process that he needs to take."
"The notion that we've tried to nail Kevin or put things out in the media is ridiculous. On this trip we've certainly played our cards close to our chests, we've really focused on the cricket, we haven't got involved on anything outside that, you can see by the way we've played on the field and for us to be dragged into this has been disappointing. Obviously it's a big story but we've got to get on with it and focus on the cricket."
On Pietersen he added: "He is a world class cricketer, for England to say they are not going to miss him is wrong. His record speaks for itself, the way he plays the game, the nature of what he offers England as a player, they will miss that." On the match he said all his players are fit and looking forward to the Test. Our focus will be on playing better cricket than England."
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2012 Andy Jalil)