South Africa last toured England in the year of 2008 and won under the captaincy of Graeme Smith. Four years later, Smith will lead the side again which will be similar looking to the one back then. This gives them a great chance to make history again and even as England are the World No.1 and would go all guns blazing in their home conditions.
The Proteas have been on a glorious run since that series win in England and have won series also in Australia, New Zealand and West Indies and leveled two series in India. Their home form does not matter for this series, because they are playing away from home again. It is their consistency of wins which have made them reach the No.2 spot in the ICC rankings, and they are level with England at the moment. Another series win should get them to that No.1 spot which has eluded them for a long period of time and they have the firepower to do it once again. Here are those 11 South Africans who are likely to take the field in the upcoming Tests in England –
1) Graeme Smith
Within one year of making his international debut for South Africa, he was appointed the captain of the team for all the formats of the game. He replaced Shaun Pollock in the summer of 2003 and his first Test assignment was incidentally the tour of England. That was an extremely successful tour for him on a personal note as he smashed two double centuries in five Test matches, in typically testing conditions for batting at Lords and Birmingham. While the team managed to draw level the series, 2-2.
That tour also marked his ascend to becoming one of the best batsmen in Test cricket over a decade. Smith is never given too much credit for his superb batsmanship as much as his contemporaries such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid or his teammate Jacques Kallis for example but the fact remains that he is a legend in this format of the game, having scored 8042 runs in 99 Test matches. And majority of these runs have come when he has led the side, which is a big achievement since not many batsmen can handle the burden of leadership very well.
His captaincy has also been inspirational and methodical, which is why South Africa is the No.2 side in the world at the moment. It was under Smith that the team won a rare series in England in 2008 and in Australia the same year. He will lead the side for the third time to England, which is a tribute to his longevity being the captain of his nation’s cricket team and would work towards not losing a series in the country for the first time. This could be his last tour as captain and a player of the South African side, so the team should win this for him.
2) Alviro Petersen
Petersen has been a part of South Africa’s Test team for two years now but has surprisingly featured in only 13 Tests for his country. He made his international debut against India at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. This is a venue which can easily pressurize an opposition player, ask Steve Waugh and his 2001 team! But he soaked up the pressure extremely well and went on to make a well deserved hundred against an Indian attack which had the ability to make good use of a deteriorating Kolkata pitch. A new South African talent was born that day, but that has not been noticed since the Proteas have only played a few Test matches since then. He has not got the popularity that he should be having at the moment.
Perhaps, this could be the best thing for the young right hander since he would want to inflict maximum damage on England without being in the spotlight, unlike his teammates such as Smith, Kallis and de Villiers. He has been of able support to even an out of sorts Smith and to an extent, has solved the perennial problem of South Africa not possessing a decent Test opener, since the retirements of Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs. He might not reach their standards throughout the course of his career, but he can be that player who can be consistent with as many fifties as possible at the top of the order while the others look to score big.
He could be the surprise package in this series, as he has not given England nightmares yet!
3) Hashim Amla
If England have Jonathan Trott, South Africa have Hashim Amla. Both the teams can afford to boast of extremely efficient one down batsmen, which makes it a thrilling battle of equals. Amla definitely tops the list of being one of the finest at the moment in Test cricket. Such has been his consistency that oppositions have to fight hard for his wicket, and only if he makes a mistake rather than being forced to make a mistake, he is likely to lose his wicket. That is the hallmark of a truly great batsman, and Amla is one of them in the longest format of the game at least.
He can stay at the wicket for very long but can hit those odd cover drives and flick shots through the legs beautifully, reminding many of Rahul Dravid. Thus, he is the Mr. Dependable of South Africa and the team naturally relies on him to score big most of the times, and bail them out of trouble in case one of the openers gets dismissed early. England has a Himalayan task ahead of them to restrict South Africa to a low total, if Amla continues to thrive at the crease. With his traditional Test match style of batting, he can tire the opponents easily.
He might not have had a great tour of England last time, but this could be his tour since he has become a way better batsman since then.
4) Jacques Kallis
Kallis is an all-time legend in all forms of cricket. There is no doubt about that. Such has been his dominance over the years that South Africa has transformed from the whipping boys to the bulwarks of world cricket. He remains the symbol of the country’s dream of being the World No.1 in this sport. His achievements speak for the value that he has in this team, the amazing part being that he bats in the top order and bowls at a decent pace, for long spells. Plus, he fields in the slips more often than not which means that he has to be alert all the time and his reflexes have to be extremely quick, irrespective of his age.
He is indeed evergreen a cricketer, with age not affecting his game one bit. He continues to play in the IPL for Kolkata Knight Riders, and his happiness has skyrocketed with their title win. But since he possesses the experience, he can easily adapt from T20 to Test cricket in no time, a format he has always loved the most to play in. Kallis was South Africa’s permanent No.3 before Hashim Amla’s resurgence and that only meant that the burly all-rounder was given the responsibility to bat at the prestigious No.4 spot, a la Ricky Ponting!
His achievements have been underestimated as well primarily because he is a South Africa, but what the team is today is because of his hard work. In all likelihood, this will also be his last tour of England and this is a man who deserves a second series win in this country. Kallis is another Wall which the hosts will have to dismantle if they want to continue their dominance at home. His name itself will give the English bowlers shivers and their mentality towards him could be a key factor in determining the outcome of this series. While South Africa would be relying on his versatility and experience heavily to taste success again in England and perhaps become World No.1.
5) AB de Villiers
de Villiers is the man South Africa needed to strengthen their struggling batting line up at one point of time, and he entered at the right time. Initially, he was more of an ODI player in Test cricket, trying to score off every ball possible. But he has gradually developed the temperament to bat in the longest format of the game, but he still has the style to entertain with his batting. He is another fabulous addition to by far the best batting line up in the world in Test cricket at the moment, since they have proved themselves in all conditions while England failed miserably in the Indian subcontinent.
The burden of captaincy and wicket keeping is only borne by him in ODI and T20 cricket as of now, so that allows de Villiers to bat with a certain amount of freedom. He continues to flourish under Smith’s stewardship and the arrogance which arises due to success, has not come into him one bit. In case the top order fails which is a rarity, it is de Villiers who will have to handle the situation very well and his adaptable style of batting makes it easy for him to do so.
South Africa has an asset in de Villiers and his fielding in the outfield is as good as his wicket keeping. That can lift the morale of a team at any stage of the match. His contributions would be vital for the team to win the series, but England would want to get him out early because sometimes he can be rash in his strokes which is a recipe of disaster in predominantly swinging and overcast conditions.
6) Jacques Rudolph
Jacques Rudolph’s is an interesting case. He made his debut in May 2003 against Bangladesh in Bangladesh and scored a stunning 222, which allowed his name to enter in the Guinness Book of World Records. That innings got him a place in the Test side for the next 18 months until he was dropped and completely forgotten by the South African selectors. He then decided to go back to domestic cricket and also feature in the English county championships. It took quite a while for him to find his best form, but when he did everybody noticed it including a new look national selection panel. After 8 years on the sidelines, he finally got an opportunity to play for his country in a Test match against Sri Lanka at home. He opened the batting in that match but then was demoted to the middle order to allow Alviro Petersen to return to the team and open the batting.
The left hander will be touring England with South Africa for the second time and he will prepared to deliver more. His experience of playing regularly on English soil will now come in handy and this is his best chance to cement his place in the team until his reflexes slow down so much that he decides to call it a day in cricket. The No.6 spot may not do justice to his talent since he is actually a top order batsman but with such a superb batting line up, Rudolph needs to be content that at least he is getting to bat and be a part of the team.
Batting lower down the order will be a challenge for him, but there is no substitute for experience and any situation should not bother him because he would be aware of how to tackle the English bowling. This could be his series, if he hits match winning knocks and he is highly capable of doing that.
7) Mark Boucher
Mark Boucher has been a true servant to South African cricket. The country has not produced as great a wicketkeeper batsman as him and once he retires, he will definitely go down as the greatest ever wicketkeeper batsman to have played the game. His achievements though, have been more in Test match cricket as he is likely to hold the record for years to come for the most number of catches and stumpings by any wicketkeeper. Boucher in his early days, he did not have a proper wicket keeping technique but he worked tremendously hard towards getting it and with that, South Africa’s fortunes changed dramatically. He has been a permanent and integral part of the South African Test team since the late 90s and alongside Jacques Kallis; he is the old and efficient warhorse to be playing for the team still.
This could be Boucher’s last international assignment with South Africa, before he quits all formats of the game. So he is another player who the team must want to win this Basil D’Oliveira Trophy for. Agreed that he has not been at his best since the last 6 months and age has finally caught up with him, but England should motivate him to give it all his might for one last time.
His contributions with the bat cannot be sidelined and he is the last recognized batsman of the side. England would not have to work that hard to get his wicket, and he will have to work hard to ensure that this is not true. He is a truly special player, but he will have to be alert and take as many catches as possible behind the stumps. Definitely, South Africa’s trump card player, the one to watch out for as well!
8) Vernon Philander
Philander has been a revelation for South Africa, ever since his debut. It was in 2011 that he ended as the fourth highest wicket taker in domestic cricket and was ultimately rewarded with a Test cap against Australia in Cape Town a couple of months ago.
He was selected ahead of left-armer Lonwano Tsotsobe to play in his home ground and he justified the faith the South African selectors had in him and his hard work over the years. Graeme Smith made him share the new ball with the numero uno Dale Steyn, instead of Morne Morkel. And the move worked, even more in the second innings. He won South Africa a lost Test against a quality side like Australia, bowling them out for just 47 in the second innings.
Since then, his tally is 51 wickets in just a span of seven Tests, something which even the likes of Pollock or Steyn did not achieve. 2012 could be his year as South Africa continues their quest to gain the World No.1 spot in Tests. This will be his first tour to England and the conditions are conducive to his style of bowling, which involves moving the ball around as much as possible to trouble the batsman without putting any pressure on himself to bowl at a fast pace.
Philander is likely to bowl first change, with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel opening the bowling. But he is another major threat England will have to overcome, to get to an impressive score. Many quality batsmen so far have found it difficult to score many runs off his bowling, which include Ricky Ponting, Mahela Jayawardene and Ross Taylor. England have quality Test batsmen as well and Philander will be their real Test to pass.
9) Dale Steyn
This is the man England must definitely watch out for. The Fuhrer of the South African bowling attack, Steyn is a Hitler to any batsman in the world. He likes to dictate terms right from the first ball and is fast and furious in his bowling and aggressive to his opponents. Such has been his quality of bowling that it has made him the No.1 bowler in the world in Test cricket at the moment. 20 wickets help a team win a Test match, and it is bowlers who have the responsibility to do so.
Steyn rarely fails to complement the batsmen’s’ efforts and always is the go to man for Graeme Smith, especially if the team needs a wicket badly. Kevin Pietersen is the one batsman who can get the better of him, but the others are likely to struggle if they play him with a defensive mindset. You cannot play out Dale Steyn, you can only outplay him. Steyn vs. Pietersen will be a great battle indeed to watch, but when on fire Steyn too can get him out easily. He can actually get any batsman out the way he wants him to be out, and that is a hallmark of a great bowler.
He can easily become one of the greatest bowlers of all time by the time he quits the game. But for the moment, his mission is to help South Africa conquer the English shores again. If England have James Anderson, South Africa have Dale Steyn and that makes the contest between these two countries even more exciting to watch! He would love these conditions and his pace makes him even more menacing, which is a headache for any batsman. Steyn’s form throughout the 3 Tests will decide if South Africa deserve to win or not, even if they play as a team and not as a bunch of individuals.
10) Morne Morkel
Morne Morkel has had a great 2012 so far. He began with the tour of New Zealand, where he famously injured the home team’s captain Ross Taylor’s elbow and made him sit out for a Test match. Then when he found out that Taylor was to be one of his teammates for the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, he teamed up with him and everyone else to help his Indian franchise finish third in the competition in which he picked 25 wickets overall, making him the highest wicket taker this year.
He now prepares to take on England in their backyard and he will have to play the role of the right hand man of Dale Steyn extremely well. Steyn and he make the best fast bowling pair in the world at the moment by far. Morkel too can be troublesome for England’s batsman and he completes South Africa’s wholesome and well balanced side. If he could perform well in New Zealand and at home, why not in England?
England would want to target him out of the three pace bowlers in this South African team, but it will not be easy by any means. He is in terrific form at the moment and he can be unstoppable, once he gets going. Again Pietersen is one such batsman who knows how to play Morkel a bit due to his experience with him this year at the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL having played for the same team, but T20s and Test cricket are a different ball game altogether and Morkel too would know a bit where to bowl to KP. This again gives South Africa the advantage, as England have been slightly vulnerable in certain situations in some Test matches in the last few months.
11) Paul Harris/Marchant de Lange
Paul Harris is South Africa’s lone spinner in the playing XI, while Imran Tahir and Johan Botha still need to prove that they are ideal to play Test cricket. The left arm spinner is the X factor of this team especially for this series, since England’s batters are definitely not the best players of spin in the world. This should tempt Harris to deliver his best and have a hope that he can help South Africa win the series, and not just one Test match or level the series. His speciality is that he can contain a batsman but also pick wickets by suddenly becoming aggressive, something which hardly any spinner does these days in Test cricket with the advent of T20 cricket across the world.
Harris was in the team last time which played in England, and did not do particularly well even as the team won. The conditions barring those of Manchester do not favour spinners, and that is something the home team will gain solace from. He does not seem to have the adaptability to quickly adjust bowling in English conditions and that is something England will surely take advantage of, since he would then become the weak link of the side. Whereas Graeme Swann has mastered the art of bowling at home well, so here is where England score better than South Africa.
If Graeme Smith thinks that he should not be in the side, then Marchant de Lange is likely to get a look in once again. South Africa can ponder an all pace attack like Australia does sometimes for pitches and conditions which have nothing for spinners. de Lange made his debut last year against Sri Lanka in Durban and picked seven wickets in the first innings itself. He does not yet have the variations required to succeed in England, but his pace is outstanding and sometimes that is enough to rattle batsmen. He might make it to the team but Harris seems to be the favourite at the moment to do so.