Proteas in fine shape
Tourists can seal series and No.1 ranking with a win in Leeds
Last Updated: July 31, 2012 9:48pm
South Africa batsman Jacques Rudolph is in confident mood as he returns to a ground he regards as a second home.
England face the Proteas in the second Test at Headingley, where Rudolph spent five seasons as a Yorkshire batsman, before resuming a Test career which had already included a 2003 victory at this same venue.
"I had five very good years here, and I've some fond memories of playing with some really good people," he said. "It's really nice to be back here. I share a lot of sentiment in this place."
Rudolph acknowledges he owes much to Yorkshire too, for helping him make the most of his potential.
"At the time when I decided to come over here, I was at a bit of a tough place in my career and needed to rediscover my love for the game," said the 31-year-old left-hander.
"The opportunity was given to me by Yorkshire, and it was five of the most memorable years in my career so far.
"I got thrown into international cricket at a really young age and didn't really always know how to cope with it.
"In these surroundings, I learned about myself and became more mature as a batsman."
Rudolph will tell his team-mates, several of whom will be aware in any case after figuring in at least one of South Africa's two successive Test wins here, not to get carried away with Leeds' reputation for seam and swing.
"There is a perception that Headingley can be a bowlers' venue. But as a batsman, when you get yourself in on this wicket you can go big.," he said.
"The last time we played here, AB (de Villiers) and Ashwell (Prince) did really well here."
Back to the present, Rudolph knows South Africa will be wise to be wary of an England fightback - and careful to avoid complacency.
"Our challenge will be to get off the wave of the first Test match, from a mental point of view," he said.
As for a knack the hosts have often displayed, of hitting back well after defeat, he added: "It's definitely not an accident.
"They are obviously the number one team in the world, and we expect quite a strong fightback from them.
"They've done really well in their own conditions over the last couple of years, so we're prepared for what we're going to face on Thursday."
One more win, after last week's landslide success in the first Investec Test at The Oval, will give the tourists an unassailable series lead - with one match to play - and will mean England have lasted less than a year as official world-beaters.
South Africa have captain Graeme Smith back too, following his week-long return to Cape Town to witness the birth of his first child, and are naturally in confident mood after their deeply impressive opening victory.
Rudolph said: "He's had a nice couple of weeks. He's on a bit of a high, and I think his family's coming over soon - so that will be good for him."