S. Africa seek top spot as England remain on guard
LONDON, July 18: England will defend their ranking as the top Test team in the world when they come up against a strong South African side in the first of three Test matches starting at The Oval here on Thursday.
South Africa edged England 2-1 in 2008, the last time the two teams met in England, but England have been unbeaten at home since then, rising to number one in the world rankings under captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower.
However, South Africa have not lost an away series since they were beaten in Sri Lanka in 2006. They are ranked third but will take the top place from England if they win the series.
Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan have become a formidable fast bowling force for England.
But South Africa have some heavy artillery as well in Dale Steyn, the world’s top-ranked bowler, the tall Morne Morkel and the accurate Vernon Philander, who has taken 51 wickets at an average of 14.15 since making his debut against Australia last November.
England may have an advantage in spin bowling, where off-spinner Graeme Swann has a superior record to South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who has yet to make a major impact at Test level.
Meanwhile, South Africa captain Graeme Smith warned England that his team were determined to take the hosts’ number one ranking away from them.
Smith said his side’s strong away record made them genuine contenders.
“We’ve been really consistent,” said Smith. “Maybe we haven’t got some of the victories we would have liked but away from home our record speaks for itself. In all conditions I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been the most consistent team over a period of time.
“We’re looking forward to getting hold of that ranking and performing well. This Test series offers us an opportunity.”
England captain Andrew Strauss acknowledged the home team faced “a very strong challenge”.
“South Africa are a very fine side. They’ve proved that over the last couple of years and they’ll be determined to knock us off our perch,” Strauss stated. “It will be a good gauge for us. The rankings say we are number one and we have to go out and prove it.”
Also on Wednesday, England seamer Graham Onions’s chances of playing in the first Test against South Africa receded further when he was unable to train on the eve of the match because of a hamstring strain.
The Durham seamer, included in England’s 13-man squad as an extra pace bowler, was not involved in Wednesday morning’s net practice.
ENGLAND (from): Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Matt Prior (wicket-keeper), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Graham Onions.
SOUTH AFRICA (likely): Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, A.B. de Villiers (wicket-keeper), Jacques Rudolph, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
Umpires: Steve Davis (Australia) and Asad Rauf (Pakistan).
TV umpire: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka).
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand).