First and foremost let's hope that this Series isn't spoilt by the weather. These are two really good teams up against each other and it would be a massive disappointment if we don't have enough play to establish who is the better of the two right now. Light showers are expected on Thursday and Friday but it's meant to be a lot better over the weekend.
The pitch at the Oval is normally a good one and the news is that it will be a dry track that will offer plenty for the spinners late on in the match. That means that whereas it would normally be an idea to bowl first if you win the toss, both captains will be thinking that chasing any sort of score to win the game will be hard work. So win the toss and bat is probably the wise choice. Graeme Swann and Imran Tahir will be major players in this contest but of the two it's Swann who is the more likely match-winner. Firstly because these are conditions that he knows better (even though Tahir has played plenty of county cricket) and secondly because he has bundles more experience of playing Test cricket. Other reasons why England may have the edge in this match are that South Africa are missing Mark Boucher and that they haven't had much of a chance to get much match practice because of the poor weather.
Either way, this will be far from straightforward for England. If it does something early on and SA are bowling then Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander can cause havoc. If they dismiss England's two left-handed openers early then Steyn can have a go at the right-handers who bat between positions three and eight inclusive. We've seen him rip through the best batting line-ups in the world over the years and he won't be feeling nervous about the challenge ahead. If the visitors bat and can make a good start, negating the new-ball threat of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, they can post a big total because theirs is a formidable line-up. You know who they are and the fact that JP Duminy will be coming in at seven is proof that they bat deep; even Philander at eight has first-class hundreds to his name.
As ever in a Test match the start will be crucial because it sets the tempo for the rest of the game and the first hour will give us a big clue as to who will be in the driving seat at the end of day one. The best sides in the world make the most of gaining the initiative and the way England and South Africa play the game, if you lose a session badly, you're half way there to losing the match.
But it's England who are the pre-match bet because of the run they're in and because they're at home; at 2.7 they offer the potential as a back-to-lay at worst.
Ravi Bopara will be recalled and bat at number six after Jonny Bairstow never really got going against the West Indies. Ravi will be nervous because he knows he has to perform in this Series but he comes into this game in good form after impressing in the ODI series against the Windies where he looked confident and composed. But the man to side with in terms of getting a score is Ian Bell. He'll be batting down at five after opening in the 50-over matches but that shouldn't bother him and he'll enjoy facing Tahir given that he's such a good player of spin. He's 2.6 to score fifty or more and that looks a bet.
For South Africa I like Jacques Kallis for top first innings batsman honours. A lot has been made of his indifferent record over in England but that's even more reason why he'll want to improve upon it on what is surely his last Tour over here. Write this man off at your peril but I certainly won't and he's my choice at 5.5.
Back England at 2.7
Back Ian Bell to score 50 or more @ 2.6
Back Jacques Kallis to be South Africa first innings top batsman @ 5.5
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