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England move out of the fog for Test series

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Adam Mountford | 15:45 UK time, Saturday, 12 December 2009

So after eight days of preparation in East London, England's cricketers head back to Johannesburg ready for Wednesday's eagerly anticipated opening Test at nearby Centurion Park.

Although the quality of practice in the warm-up games was debatable, playing a moderate South African Invitational side on a slow pitch, to be honest England were probably pleased just to get out on the field following a hugely frustrating period which saw them play only three days cricket in three weeks due to bad weather across the country.

When we arrived on the south coast, the prospects did not look great with a mixed weather forecast and a sodden Buffalo Park. When you looked down the East London Esplanade it looked more like a scene from John Carpenter's "The Fog" than a holiday destination with the sea mist enveloping the hotels by the edge of the beach.

Heavy rain at the start of the week left the players seeking out alternative forms of amusing themselves. East London was described to us by one local as a "nine to five kind of place, where nothing is more than 10 minutes away". One British journalist was rather more harsh, labelling the city as "grim"... which earned a rebuke in the local paper the Daily Dispatch.England prepare for the Test series in South Africa
England's preparations for the Test series have been affected by the weather

But the players seemed to find things to do as the rain fell. Several made their way to the cinema where the disaster movie "2012" was a favourite , the nearby indoor gym was in regular use and we would often catch up with a member of the squad topping up supplies in the local supermarket.

However I don't think many sought out East London's most famous attractions which are housed in the Natural History Museum. A stuffed fish and an old egg may not seem very exciting, but the fish concerned is the famous "coelacanth" caught off the waters here in 1938 which evolutionists believe provided the missing link between water and land animals, while the egg is the only surviving dodo egg believed to exist in the world.

I also believe the players managed to resist the temptation to see the East London pantomime which opened this week... "Snow White and the Seven Dofs" at the Guild Theatre. According to the shows publicity, "keeping you in stitches playing Dame Dolla the Palace Nanny is Byron Mountford". I assume Byron is no relation of mine but to be honest I never went along to the Guild Theatre to find out.

Fortunately the weather improved by the middle of the week and we could all concentrate on matters on the field. Obviously practice at altitude ahead of a Highveld Test would have been better than down on the coast... although coach Andy Flower and wicketkeeping coach Bruce French did manage to reach the heights on the final day in East London when they scaled one of the floodlight pylons at Buffalo Park, much to the amusement of the players as they walked off the field at lunch. The former Nottinghamshire keeper is a massive climbing enthusiast.

In terms of lessons learned from the week of practice, it has just fuelled the speculation about the make-up of England's team for the first Test, with as many questions as answers.

Has James Anderson proved his fitness ahead of the Test? Do the five wickets for Ryan Sidebottom put him in contention for a recall? Has Luke Wright got a genuine chance of making his Test debut in Pretoria? Will Ian Bell keep his place with all six specialist batsman included?

As you would expect the England captain and management are keeping the final XI for Centurion close to their chest - and it will be fascinating to find out the line-up on Wednesday.

As for our line-up for the first Test - Jonathan Agnew will be joined by Simon Mann and popular South African broadcaster Gerald De Kock, with expert analysis from Michael Vaughan, Geoff Boycott and Vic Marks.

Vaughan, England's most successful captain of all time, is making his TMS debut in the game. He of course made his Test debut here in South Africa 10 years ago, led England to a series win on their last tour here in 2004/05 and played his final Test against South Africa before his tearful resignation as captain last summer. We will also hear regularly from former South Africa captain Shaun Pollock throughout the series.

During the lunch interval on Wednesday at 1030 GMT, we will be trying to cut through the jargon to explain how the controversial new umpire referral system works, including hearing from one of the boffins who helped develop the Hawk-Eye system which is being used to help make decisions. As always if you have any questions or observations then you can contact us via the TMS blog, e-mail or text us on 84040.

Also during the Test we'll be focusing on the latest situation over in Zimbabwe and discuss if cricket is recovering enough for them to return to playing Tests. Guests will include Zimbabwe's minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture David Coltart and former Zimbabwe player Pommie Mbangwa.

With Makhaya Ntini expected to play his 100th Test in Pretoria we will be assessing his contribution to South Africa cricket. We'll hear from TMS summariser turned England batting coach Graham Gooch, from selector Ashley Giles who also played in England's victory here five years ago and from England cricket's managing director Hugh Morris.

We will also begin a series looking at "Cricket's Decade", focusing at how the game has changed over the last 10 years with themes including match-fixing, the rise of Twenty20 cricket and the strength of the English game a decade after they plummeted to the bottom of the ICC Test rankings table. And we'll be catching up with Oli Broom who is "Cycling to the Ashes" to help raise money for the Lord's Taverners. Oli has got as far as Istanbul on his incredible quest to ride to Brisbane in time for next year's series with Australia.

It all gets underway on Wednesday morning with BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra on air from 0815 GMT. For the first couple of days BBC Radio 4's Long Wave listeners will join the commentary just before 0900 following "Yesterday in Parliament", but you will also be able to listen online - details at

Kevin Howells will provide updates every 15 minutes on BBC Radio 5 live, and Jonathan Agnew will round up all the day's play with Geoff Boycott in the TMS Podcast.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am genuinely looking forward to this series. For once it has been done the right way with the T20 followed by the ODIs and then the Tests; each an aperitive for the next. There is a hint of vulnerability about South Africa that seemed unthinkable 12 months ago.

    I would like to see England play four specialist bowlers + Luke Wright and take the attack to South Africa. Broad, Sidebottom and Swann are front line bowlers who have all shown that they can score runs and we should show faith in them to take 250-5 to 400 all out consistently. There is no point in holding Luke Wright back any longer: give him a chance and let him show what he can do.

  • Comment number 2.

    Seems to me we are still short a genuine pace man.
    Stargazer has picked an impressive suite of bowlers but if Jimmy is fit dont England run the risk of being almost wholly dependent on swing bowling? I rather fancy Onions myself to hedge our bets a bit.Also I d love to see Onions and Sidebottom bowling in tandem . A few good spells of accurate stump bowling might undo South Africas formidable line up .
    I m not convinced about Luke Wright meself but hes gotta debut sometime to see how he goes at the top level.
    Like Stargazer I m really looking forward to this series .I ve gotta say I m not actually too hopeful but I ll be listening to me Dab Religously fot the next month or so !

  • Comment number 3.

    Badgers, South Africa are very nervous about their fast bowling attack. They are concerned that they will have real problems getting 20 wickets. They also have a serious problem of balance. And that is pushing the focus on what has been their weak suit in recent years: the spin attack. Will Jacques Kallis injured and the fast bowlers misfiring, England have a chance to catch them cold, if they have the nerve.

    Something similar happened in 2004/05: the South Africans made some dodgy selections for the 1st Test, went one-down and were always struggling to get back into the series, even when they played their best side and had everyone firing.

  • Comment number 4.

    There appears to be a respectable degree of parity between these two teams. As such, the series could go either way.

    Much has to do with the toss. The team that bats first will have a nice, even surface to 'work' with to amass a score in excess of 400 runs. Anything higher than this will put pressure on the team batting second.

    I agree with Gazer that there is a "hint" of vulnerability about South Africa. In other words, the door is ajar and England could seize the opportunity to kick it wide open.

  • Comment number 5.

    Crikey! What a performance, just to enter a post here. - Anyway, I too am agog for this series to begin. Needless to say, I will not be rooting for South Africa, even if I do hope they run us close.

    I'm not making suggestions as to who should be in our side on Wednesday, although I do hope Anderson is fit enough to be considered. Likewise, I hope Kallis is fit. What's the point of beating a side with (a) key player(s) out through injury? I will say that if Luke Wright is on song, he can be as dangerous with bat and ball as any - and I'm all for testing youth at top levels.

    And as one with a long cricketing memory, was it not in South Africa that Bill Edrich finally came good, after a string of failures? (Yes, "W.J.," not another in that long string of cricketing Edriches.)- A timeless Test, if I'm not misaken. - So perhaps it's time for Ian Bell to make his case with certainty. He would appear to have the class. Now he needs to make it tell compellingly.

  • Comment number 6.

    I definately reckon England are the favourites going into this series. I'd like everyone's opinion on a crucial decision I'm having to take at

    It's a 'time of change' and I need all the help I can get cricket lovers!

  • Comment number 7.

    Going to be a great series but i've got a feeling Wright just won't cut it at test level (his ODI record is hardly amazing). Broad and Swanny are arguably better batsmen so England have got to either go for a 5th bowler or 6th batsman rather than someone who is mediocre at both.

    If Kallis is out though SA have got a far bigger issue with trying to balance the side than England.

  • Comment number 8.

    Buckers, Wright's ODI record isn't amazing because he's been treated really harshly, moved up and down the order on a whim and in every case been in the situation where he has to swing the bat. He has some championship hundreds to his name, so as many other people have said on here, let's play him and see! Can't keep saying "what if?" all the time!


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