By Karthik Parimal
“We don't care how the series goes, as long as we win. It doesn't need to be pretty; it doesn't need to be beautiful with guys scoring hundreds and guys taking five-fors. We just want to get the job done.” – Dale Steyn
England take on South Africa today in what is undeniably is one of the most anticipated Test series in a very long time. This series could possibly reveal the superior team of the two. Or, like many believe, could prove that both these sides are indeed evenly matched. It’s already clear that the South Africans will leave no stone unturned to claim supremacy in the original form of cricket. Unlike India and West Indies, two teams that toured England recently, the South Africans have already made their presence felt with decent performances in the two tour games against Kent and Somerset. It is evident that they’re prepared for the acid test ahead.
Both England and South Africa feature some of the best bowlers in their ranks. That’s one of the reasons both these teams are so effective irrespective of the pitch or the conditions. The likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel have the ability to rattle some of the best batting line-ups in the world.
Steyn has already made his intentions clear. "I think there are times when I can bowl as quickly as anybody in the world, but I just want to take wickets - and I want to scare the s*** out of people."
Philander, who recently won the South African Cricketer of the Year award, looks up and ready for the challenge. In just seven Tests, he has picked 51 wickets, inclusive of six five-wicket hauls. That speaks volumes of the damage he is capable of inflicting. Morne Morkel, too, has been in good form off late. These three bowlers have bowled decent spells during the warm-up games and should already be acclimatised to the conditions.
Their batting department is no pushover either. Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers can be a thorn in the flesh of the English bowlers. These four constitute the list of top four run-scorers for South Africa since the last two years whereas Jacques Rudolph cuts a close fifth. Alviro Petersen, too, has performed brilliantly well during the same span. He has scored 371 runs in just four Tests at an average of 53.00. It is true that England have a world-class bowling attack, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can take advantage of the home conditions and manage to perturb the visitor’s batting line-up. It’s the first time after they’ve attained supremacy in Tests that the hosts face a batting unit as strong as South Africa’s.
Moreover, Kallis’ record in England is not exceptional. In what could probably be his last tour of Ole Blighty, Kallis would like to end the series on a high for him and his team. His experience will undoubtedly come in handy in the tough English conditions.
Potent English lower order
If there is one place that the South Africans could be a little on the weaker side as compared to the hosts, it’s the ability of the lower-order batsmen. The likes of Steyn and Morkel are no mugs with the bat, but they are nowhere close to how effective Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann could be. Philander and Imran Tahir’s batting capabilities are still unknown. We’ve seen during England’s series against India, and later against Pakistan, that no team can afford to relax even after getting rid of England’s top-order quickly. Their tail can inflict a lot more damage than just offering some resistance.
Also, the other area where South Africa could be a little behind comparatively is in the spin department. This is Tahir’s first tour to England and whether he can adapt to the conditions without much fuss remains to be seen. His first tour game against Somerset was a sombre affair but he did perform to expectations when he registered a four-wicket haul during the second warm-up fixture against Kent. He didn’t bowl much in the second innings. Tahir is South Africa’s frontline spinner on this tour and a lot of expectations have already been placed on his shoulders.
The visitors will miss the presence of legendary wicket-keeper Mark Boucher, but it could also spur them on to perform excellently on the field for the man who was South Africa’s pillar of strength for so many years. If South Africa wins the series, they will take over from England as the No.1 team in the world, even if it’s by a fraction. It’s as simple as that. And there is no doubt that Smith’s men will strive to achieve that remarkable feat.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)