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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Contest of the Summer

We are nearly there. It kicks off tomorrow, on the 19th of July, at the Oval in London.

For test cricket connoisseurs, it is the highlight of the summer cricket calendar. The heavyweight championship of test cricket, between two rather evenly matched contestants.

The number one ranked English will be challenged by the number three ranked South Africans, nine points now separating the two sides in the recently refreshed ICC point system. One thing is clear though - the winner of this series will be champion of test cricket. It doesn't get tighter than that, especially when the contest is limited to only three tests, and the weather likely to play a bigger part than usual.

This series will be a treat! On display and slugging it out will be the top bowlers, batsmen and all rounders of the game today. Factor in England's form, unbeaten streak at home, perfectly balanced and stable team, on the one hand. On the other hand, star performers amongst the South African ranks, an unbeaten away record since 2006 and the memory of having humbled England at home four years ago.

Graeme Smith has set his side the challenge of knocking the crown off England's head. There is no doubt that if anyone can, the Proteas can.

Both teams will be led by experienced campaigners, gritty left-handed opening batsmen. Smith will lead his side out at the Oval for the 100th time, while Andrew Strauss will play his 100th test at Lords.

Absolutely the best bowling talents of the present day game will be on display in the series. In heavy green conditions it will be a true test for batsmen. So hold on tight as Dale Steyn, James Anderson, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn or Tim Bresnan steam in. Or when Imran Tahir or Graeme Swann mesmerise. For good measure South Africa have options in young Marchant de Lange and left-arm seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

To contest the bowling quality promised in the series, are some of the best batsmen in the game. In addition to the two skippers, the batsmen who will be a treat to watch in the series include Alastair Cook, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. And above all, the superstar cricketer, the best all rounder in the world, Jaques Kallis.

So in this toughest of contests, who will prevail? Will England retain the crown? Or will South Africa finally reach the pinnacle? The prize makes the contest even more juicy.

It will be close. Maybe even wonder if South Africa could repeat 2008, and win by a slim margin. But, honestly, I can not see this England unit crumbling in home conditions. Yes, there will be tight sessions, and South Africa will have their nose ahead in a few. If we get three completed tests, expect three results. In the end though England will prevail.

One last thought. Watch out for Imran Tahir! Wrist spinners have always been trouble, and Tahir has the skills and deception to cause a ripple or two for the English batsmen.

Happy viewing!
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