CENTURION // South Africa have not played a Test match since March but, according to their captain Graeme Smith, they are fully prepared for a return to the longer format of the game. The Proteas have played 14 one-day internationals and 12 Twenty20 matches since their 2-1 Test series defeat to Australia and are not worried about the prospect of playing a five-day match again.
But the chances of the first Test lasting the distance do not look high as the green tinge to the Centurion wicket makes it look more like the goalmouth at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium, the nearby football World Cup venue. Groundsmen were desperately working to improve it yesterday and the mixed weather conditions are expected to get better but Smith knows how important it is for the coin to land down in his favour.
"The challenge is to win the toss and make the right decisions," he said. "We'll assess the wicket in the morning but I think it'll be a lot different to the way it is now." Smith has provisionally named his line-up for today's match while his England counterpart Andrew Strauss will leave selection until this morning. Jacques Kallis, the key all-rounder, has been declared fit but will not bowl, while Dale Steyn is also included. He will spearhead a Proteas bowling attack including Makhaya Ntini, playing in his 100th Test, Morne Morkel and the spinner Paul Harris.
Smith admits that the uncapped paceman Friedel de Wet will miss out, despite the expected seaming conditions, unless there is a drastic change of thinking. Alviro Petersen, Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell were released on Monday. "We've got our squad down to 12 but there's a 99 per cent chance we'll play our spinner, we have done over a period of time and will stick with it," said Smith. "It's been a lengthy period since our last Test match but our squad is very mature and has had a lot of success.
"Each guy knows what he needs to do to be successful and there's been a good, calm approach to our training sessions. "We're ready for it but we need to make the first day count." And Smith joked that there will be no extra sledging for the South African-born Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott. "Are they South African or are they English? If they're playing for England will treat them like England players," he added.
firstname.lastname@example.org South Africa v England, start 12.30pm, Showsports 2