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Finally, the pleasantries having been dealt with, the West Indies and Australia brushed aside by an England side in buoyant form, the main event of this year’s Test cricket calendar is at hand.

On Thursday, England and South Africa, the top sides in the longer form of the game, will begin their three-match series at The Oval in London.

And, by the time the third match, beginning at Lord’s in the middle of August, concludes, Test cricket will have an undisputed heavyweight champ. Well, unless it’s a draw, in which case nothing much will be settled.

It is curious that a series of such consequence should be straitjacketed into just three matches but that is the nature of international cricket these days – there is, apparently, enough room for five ODIs and three T20s once the boring old Tests are done and dusted.

That gripe aside, it promises to be a fascinating series with no shortage of talking points.

The English attack

In recent years, England’s great strength, particularly on home soil, has been the consistency and variety of its pace bowling attack.

It will, as usual, be led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who, in English conditions, have been nigh on unplayable over the past 12 months.

The English selectors then have the luxury of choosing between Tim Bresnan and Steve Finn for the third seamer’s spot – Bresnan’s batting and durability appeals but Finn shapes as the bowler more likely to produce a spell that turns a match.

Since Andy Flower took charge of this England side, over three years ago, there have been many triumphs and startling improvements. But the formation of this world-beating seam attack has been the most significant.

The only worry for England is in the form of Graeme Swann, who, at one point, would have been the first or second man picked.

The 33-year-old’s overall record is still impressive and he was one of the few English cricketers to emerge from a disastrous tour of the subcontinent with some decent numbers, but his last two series at home, against the West Indies and India, have been lean.

And, certainly, the Proteas’ batsmen will not be in generous moods.

KP continues

Any sense that Kevin Pietersen might arrive in the middle years of his life as an international cricketer having mellowed, was dispelled in May, when KP retired from limited-overs cricket, citing an inflexible schedule.

The England board may have made a rod for their backs but it would not surprise if the situation brings out the combative best in KP, so often a lightning rod for criticism.

Pietersen, of course, has a strained relationship with South Africa – the country of his birth – and it will be fascinating to see whether the Proteas get stuck into him, sensing vulnerability, or leave him alone, lest they set his competitive juice flowing.

Pietersen’s form over the past year has been impressive – the dodgy tour to Pakistan the only exception – but his Test performances against South Africa have been nothing special over the journey.

Pietersen, of course, is no longer the only gun in England’s arsenal, sandwiched instead between Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, all capable of scoring heavily.

But it’s hard to shake the sense that if Pietersen, once more with something to prove, is allowed to settle, he could yet be the English batsman who shapes the series.


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