Nobody knows more about Jacques Kallis, South Africa's in-form batsman, than Duncan Fletcher, the England coach. Kallis was aged 10 and in the middle of a two-hour net session with his father in Cape Town when Fletcher first set eyes on him. It was at this age that Fletcher's son captained the side Kallis used to play in. When Kallis joined the Western Province squad as a teenager he began working with Fletcher at a professional level.
"Jacques is right up there with the best players I have worked with," said Fletcher on the eve of England's NatWest Series day/night encounter against South Africa at Old Trafford. "He has a very good temperament and he just wants to stay out there and occupy the crease as long as possible. He values his wicket and gets himself in before going for his shots. He has the confidence to know he can explode at the back end of an innings."
Kallis has proved in South Africa's first two matches of the tournament just why Fletcher rates him so highly. He scored 107 against England on Saturday and 125 against Zimbabwe a day later and the England's aim will be to prevent Fletcher's prodigy from joining Zaheer Abbas, Saeed Anwar and Herschelle Gibbs to become the fourth batsman to score one-day hundreds in three consecutive innings.
In an effort to do this Fletcher and the England captain, Michael Vaughan, will have analysed Kallis in even greater depth, but this does not mean they have come up with a cunning plan. Fletcher admitted: "When you are faced with a really good batter you can to some degree know what areas to bowl in, but really good batsmen are hard to get out."
England will be only picking from 14 after releasing Stephen Harmison from their squad so he can play some cricket before the Test series against South Africa. The Durham fast bowler, who is yet to play in the series, joined his county for their four-day match against Worcestershire on Tuesday evening and took 4 for 50 yesterday in his first competitive game since 7 June.
Ashley Giles is expected to return at the expense of Kabir Ali, who failed to bowl or bat on his debut at Headingley, with James Troughton and Robert Key fighting it out for the last batting position.
South Africa's only fitness worry surrounds their captain Graeme Smith who injured his left shoulder diving for a catch on Sunday. Since the victory over Zimbabwe Smith has not been able to practice.
The 22-year-old had scans on his shoulder and injections in the affected area on Tuesday and will have a fitness test this morning. "The shoulder has come a long way since Monday," said Smith. "The scans revealed that no further damage can be done through playing. It is just a question of dealing with movement and pain, but I want to be able to give 100 per cent. I am optimistic of playing, but I don't know whether the physiotherapist is."
Smith knows how important it is for him to play. With a five-match Test series beginning in three weeks both teams will be looking to build up some momentum. Smith will be aware that when a captain moves to the periphery of things his side can quickly lose its focus.
History points to a South African victory because England have not won back-to-back matches against these opponents since 1994. In the 20 games which have followed South Africa have won 16.
"England are obviously on a high after beating us in the first game and we want to change that," said Smith. "We treat every game as a big game, but this is definitely a big game for us. In the first game we were carrying a lot of nerves and tension. The guys were feeling a bit of pressure, but we have moved away from that now. After the first 15 overs against Zimbabwe we really started to bowl like a unit.
"At The Oval England's game plan took us by surprise. It was only the second ball of their innings when Trescothick charged Pollock, so coming at us was obviously something they had discussed. We now have to come up with something to counter it. If it is their game plan again, this time we will be ready for it."
ENGLAND (possible): M P Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), M E Trescothick (Somerset), V S Solanki (Worcestershire), J O Troughton (Warwickshire), A Flintoff (Lancashire), A McGrath (Yorkshire), C M W Read (Nottinghamshire, wkt), R L Johnson (Somerset), K Ali (Worcestershire), D Gough (Yorkshire), J M Anderson (Lancashire).
SOUTH AFRICA (possible): M V Boucher (wkt, capt), H H Dippenaar, H H Gibbs, J H Kallis, J A Rudolph, M van Jaarsveld, S M Pollock, N Boje, A J Hall, A C Dawson, M Ntini.