Proteas have better chance of dethroning England when they meet next year

2011-08-24 00:00

JUST a few weeks ago we were eagerly awaiting the first Test match at the home of cricket between the then Test match champions India and wannabes England. It was a much anticipated series with everything to play for, for both teams.

India, it seemed, were riding a wave of success with enough momentum to make them competitive in the series, or so we thought. Who could have predicted they would be so unceremoniously dumped?

England’s decimation job was clinical and the 4-0 whitewash emphatic. India were denied much — a single Test match victory, an opportunity for Sachin Tendulkar to score his 100th international century, an innings total in excess of 300 runs and any sniff at the Pataudi trophy.

To rub salt into India’s wounds their failure to win a single match in the series has seen them slip from the number one spot to number three behind South Africa, who are a single point ahead of them.

The next time the current first- and second-ranked teams will meet will be in the summer of 2012 when England host South Africa in a three-Test series.

Gary Kirsten, who guided India to the top of the Test rankings, will be eyeing the number one Test spot yet again, but this time with his new charges South Africa.

What will give South Africa the edge over India when they next meet England in their back yard?

Importantly South Africa have the confidence of knowing they have won a series there before. India have won just one Test match in England in the last five years.

England is also a happy hunting ground for a number of South African cricketers who have spent seasons playing county cricket and have developed a liking for English conditions.

Perhaps Kirsten’s biggest advantage is the fact that South Africa are good “travellers”. Statsguru’s telling statistics confirm that India have won just five matches in England in a period spanning 1932-2011!

All this is a long way off and in the meantime there is a lot of hard work for Kirsten and his men to do this summer — but good results against Australia, currently ranked number five, and Sri Lanka (number four) could set things up perfectly for an epic Test match tussle next summer in England.

The composition of Kirsten’s Test team will be fascinating. Whether he will ring the changes from the outset or tentatively feel his way remains to be seen.

The first obstacle will be Australia, who are always dangerous, particularly when they are playing for pride and have a huge point to prove.

Then it will be Sri Lanka, who will be determined to keep their position ahead of Australia at number four.

Spare a thought for India whose testing times could continue. Their next opportunity to salvage Test pride (after a series at home against the West Indies) will be over Christmas when they travel Down Under.

Neil Johnson is former Zimbabwean, Western Province and Dolphins cricketer turned commentator who resides in the midlands.

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