The forthcoming third test between two of the game’s closest rivals may well be South Africa’s most important since readmission. There is a lot at stake. The number one ranking in test cricket, no matter how flawed the system, is still the only prize that the format commands. The Proteas have been on top before, but due to bafflingly poor home form have failed to hold onto the coveted ranking. As a team, they have never looked stronger and with Australia still in the process of reformation and the English seemingly coming to the end of their fairly brief golden era, the time is high for the Proteas to become the dominant test nation and begin a legacy of their own. That is not to say that the English will be taking it lightly. It is their top position on the line and they will no doubt be fighting tooth and nail to hold onto it in a year where their test form has waned. In terms of recent history, this test is probably second in importance only to the final Ashes test in 2005, where they regained them after 18 years.
The Poms now find themselves in a highly precarious position. A win at Lord’s is the only result that can save the series and their number one ranking, and they will be going into the match without their best player. Kevin Pietersen is a match-winner and anyone who watched his blitzkrieg 149 would have to agree with us. He is also a master at Lord’s, so his presence in the middle-order will be sorely missed. The English batting is not quite as tight as it looked prior to the series. Bell, although able to dig in, has failed for the most part with the bat, and by the looks of things the number five and six positions will be occupied by Taylor and Bairstow. Hardly a formidable middle-order against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander. There is no doubt in my mind that the selectors will learn from their gross misjudgement at Headingley and include Graeme Swann. This leaves them with the conundrum of who to include in the pace trio. Anderson and Broad are shoe-ins so the battle is between Bresnan and Finn. Although Steven Finn will probably feel more comfortable at his home ground than at Headingley, with England’s brittle middle-order I feel that they need to include Bresnan for the extra batting option. Broad’s confidence will be high following his five wicket haul in the second innings and could be a danger if the Proteas aren’t wary.
All that is required of the Proteas is something they have been doing for years; not losing. For the past six years the South Africans have not lost a series away from home, and with the series poised as it is, this record will remain intact. But it is not the series that is in question, it is the match itself. The Proteas could not find themselves in a better position to take the test throne from England in their own backyard, playing at a ground that they haven’t lost at since 1960 and with a solid team that is largely used to success in England. The injury scares to batsmen Smith, Petersen and Kallis are all but a thing of the recent past, and the Proteas should enter the final test with the same full-strength team that has failed to lose thus-far. Their biggest worry of the series has been the Imran Tahir no-ball issue, but after not overstepping once in last week’s warm up, he looks to have put it right. Vernon Philander even began to show promise of being the all-rounder he was talked up to be, scoring 68 not out against Derbyshire. The bowling attack continues to show aggression and determination, not giving up even in the face of Kevin Pietersen’s magnificent innings. It’s tough to find any weakness in this team, and if they go on to claim the series that they seem so destined to do, we see them securing their position at the top of the test rankings for a stretch.
Match Timings: Aug 16, 2012 (10:00 local | 09:00 GMT | 15:30 IST)
England (probable) Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Graeme Swann, James Anderson.
South Africa (probable) Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Jacques Rudolph, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir.