England beware: South Africa are fit, strong and primed for Michael Vaughan's side in the first Test at Lord's. For the Proteas, 11am on Thursday cannot come round quickly enough. Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, wishes the Test was scheduled for tomorrow, so keen are he and his side to show the cricketing world what they have to offer.
Squally showers washed out the final day of South Africa's warm-up game against Middlesex, preventing the tourists of their last piece of meaningful middle practice before the first Test. But Arthur does not believe the inclement weather will result in his side being undercooked at the home of cricket.
"We are ready to go now," said Arthur. "In many ways we are counting down the hours. I wish we were starting in two days' time, which is how ready I feel we are as a group. Each day is delaying the inevitable. We want to start playing now and get our teeth into the real competitive cricket to come. I am pretty confident we have done the work we need and we will have two tough training sessions at Lord's before Thursday. You can feel in the dressing room that the boys are ready for the Test; they want to get cracking.
"We have been planning for this year for two years. We have played India in India, which is a series we have just come through, and we now have England in England followed by Australia in Australia later in the year. It does not come much harder than that, in terms of three tours in a row, so we needed to get ready for it and plan for it and our processes started a couple of years ago. I believe we have assembled a very competitive side for all three of these series."
South Africa are delighted to start the series at Lord's, a venue where they have a 100 per cent win record since readmission to international cricket in 1992. In those three Tests South Africa have thumped England by 356 runs in 1992, 10 wickets in 1998, and an innings and 92 runs in 2003. Despite the victories South Africa failed to win any of the three series.
"There is a special buzz about playing in England," Arthur admitted. "This is a tour we have been talking about as a group for quite some time now. When we trained at Lord's the other day there was a special buzz about the session. South Africa have not won a series in England since unity and it is something that we have put pretty high on our agendas.
"We are pleased that the first Test is at Lord's. Come Thursday morning we will all realise that this is it, this is what it is all about. Stages do not come much bigger than it."
Arthur's only concern is whether his fast bowlers live up to the billing they are being given. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Makhaya Ntini, backed up by Jacques Kallis, supply Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, with a fast-bowling attack as varied and good as any in the world. Steyn has taken 69 wickets at an average of 15 in his last 10 Tests, performances that rank him as the second-best bowler in the world. Ntini sits at five, one place ahead of Ryan Sidebottom.
"Our pace attack has received a lot of positive publicity, but they will not be overconfident," Arthur said. "It will be interesting to see how they mentally handle the build-up and coverage they get. Morkel and Steyn are young and have not been tested by the media hype that we have here, but I am pretty sure they will be fine. I am pretty confident Dale will go well. He arrives with a high profile but he is level-headed. The sight of Steyn and Morkel could be something special this summer."
The one area where South Africa appear vulnerable is spin. Paul Harris will play at Lord's, where he will be expected to offer the same support as Ashley Giles did for England in 2004-05.
"We would be sitting in a fool's paradise if we did not think England would be looking to target Paul," Arthur said. "It is no secret that the role he plays is a holding one, he's played that role quite well for us, allowing our quicks to rotate from the other end. If I was strategising in the other camp, I would be looking to take him on a bit. We are aware of it, he is aware of it and it is something that he will have to deal with when he bowls on Thursday or Friday.
"It could be a great opportunity for him too, and I have been stressing that to him. You can handle these sorts of situation in two ways; you can step up to the plate or back down, and he is very much the sort of character that steps up to the plate. There have been times recently when we could have played an extra seamer in our side, but we chose not to because we want to build him up and show faith in him, and any team that wants to reach the top has to have a spinner."
South Africa are ready. We will find out on Thursday whether England are.Reuse content