No travel sickness
South Africa can extend their sterling Test match record away from home, says Shaun Pollock.
Last Updated: 14/07/12 10:34am
South Africa have been very successful tourists over recent years and former Proteas all-rounder Shaun Pollock does not expect that to change this summer.
Graeme Smith's charges have not lost an away Test series since falling to Sri Lanka in 2006, but will face probably their sternest challenge yet when they tackle top-ranked Test side England in a three-match duel, which begins at The Oval on Thursday.
However, Pollock, who claimed 421 wickets from his 108 Tests, believes South Africa, ranked just below their hosts in the five-day ratings, will come out on top due to the potency of their pace attack and the batting skill of AB De Villiers.
Speaking to skysports.com ahead of the Oval clash, Pollock also gave his thoughts on Smith's captaincy, Mark Boucher's international retirement, England's flotilla of pace bowlers and more.
Read below to see what the Proteas legend had to say...
South Africa have been tremendously successful on their travels of late. Why are the Proteas such a tough nut to crack on opposition terrain?
South Africa have a very settled unit; they have been together for a long time now and each member of the side knows their respective role. They have got some world-class performers in their XI and that is what has made them successful, as has their ability to adapt to different conditions around the world. Those are the secrets of the Proteas' success and they are rightfully towards the top of the world Test rankings. England are at the summit, though, and I anticipate a great series between the two best five-day sides around.
Graeme Smith has been South Africa's Test match skipper for nine years. Do you sense that, win or lose this series, he may step down from the job soon?
I don't see Graeme thinking about stepping aside as Test match captain for at least another year. South Africa go to Australia later this year before coming home to play New Zealand and Pakistan and he will want to be in charge for those series. AB De Villiers is vice-captain in the five-day arena, as well as captain in the one-day formats, so would be the likely replacement should Graeme move on, but AB is still finding his feet as a leader and discovering his own style of captaincy. I think the fire still burns inside Graeme and he wants to be the man in charge.
Smith took over as captain when he was just 22. How do you feel his style of leadership has changed over the years, if at all?
Whilst I was playing with him in the early days of his captaincy, he matured and grew into the role; he learnt a lot and that gave him a better understanding of what is required and allowed him to formulate better ideas. It's hard for me to comment now as I am no longer part of the day-to-day unit, but from the outside it seems Smith has a better outlook on things, while I think he has adjusted nicely to - and relishes the task of - captaining an attacking leg-spinner like Imran Tahir.
Gary Kirsten has returned to the South Africa set-up as the head coach. What principles has he adopted since being appointed?
Gary is the type of guy who will try to remain as calm as possible and bring that into the team scenario. He understands that the individual players are the ones that have to go out there and perform and he just tries to ensure they have the perfect environment to play their best. He doesn't want to rock the boat too much and his job is primarily to get the team in a good frame of mind. I think that he is in a similar mould to England coach, Andy Flower, who I have always found very composed during interviews.
Wicketkeeper Mark Boucher will be absent having announced his international retirement due to an eye injury. How big a miss will he be, not just in this series but for South African cricket in general?
It is a big blow and it is very sad for Mark. He has been a wonderful performer over the years and it would have been wonderful for him to go out in style. He had already announced he would retire after the series with England and three more Tests and he would have have reached his 150th Test at Lord's; the fairy-tale was painted out for him but, unfortunately, that dream has been scuppered. Mark's experience will be missed, particularly in a place like England where wicketkeeping can be very difficult, while his contribution down the batting order was also important. But from a team scenario he was a big presence in the dressing room, coming up with tactics and methodologies, plus he is an inspiring individual. However, I'm sure the players will try to use the fact that he's not there as a motivating factor.
Many pundits believe the outcome of this series will hinge on the battle between the two sides' fast-bowling units. Who do you think has the stronger attack?
I am naturally biased towards South Africa, more so because I know what they are capable of and have seen a greater deal of them than the England seamers. They have got a nice balance to their attack; Vernon Philander has been sensational since he started, Dale Steyn has been the world's greatest for some time, Morne Morkel's height and bounce brings a different dimension and, of course, they are backed up by Jacques Kallis, who performs day in, day out. We also have Tahir now in the spin department, though I don't know how much of a role the spinners will play with the amount of rain there has been.
Will English conditions suit the South African seamers?
I always found England a lovely place to bowl because you used to get constant movement with the Duke ball. There was always a bit of shine on the ball and you always felt that you had something to work with, whereas sometimes in Australia, South Africa and the subcontinent things can seem pretty flat. I'm sure the South Africa seamers will relish this opportunity, particularly Steyn and Philander, who rely on the ball moving around for them to be at their best.
How impressed have you been by England's bowling attack, though?
Very. James Anderson is a wonderful bowler and anyone who can swing the ball both ways with so much control is going to be a handful, while Tim Bresnan has had a remarkable run and seems to be a lucky omen because England have not lost any of the 14 Test matches in which he has played! Then you have Stuart Broad and a quality spinner in Graeme Swann. However, I just think South Africa have the slight edge in the bowling department.
One advantage South Africa may have is that, in Kallis, they have a genuine fifth bowler as well as a top-quality batsman. Should he be regarded as one of the finest all-rounder to ever play the game?
He has been awesome for South Africa and his records and statistics speak for themselves. I haven't seen all of the great all-rounders from cricket's history but he must be up with the best of them as he has been very special for our country. Jacques doesn't shirk his duty with the ball; he is the fourth bowler in the first innings and is then substituted for Tahir in the second. His presence really helps with the balance of the side.
AB De Villiers is currently ranked as the third best Test batsman in the world. Do you think he is capable of enjoying a long stint as number one?
AB has come into his own of late and every series he seems to mature and leave his mark. He has his eyes set on being unequivocally the best batsman in the world and I believe he has got the ability to do that. I expect him to perform well in England, but Hashim Amla is also a fantastic player who doesn't get the good comments that he deserves, while Smith has shown that he can score a lot of runs in England before and then we have Kallis. It is a good batting unit and hopefully they have prepared well so that technique-wise they are ready to go and can score the runs they should.
How do South Africa view the challenge of facing England this summer?
They have a lot of respect for England, who have been a very solid unit for some time now. Flower has done a good job and over the last few years the side have played mostly winning cricket. England will be hard for South Africa to overcome but that's what you expect and what will make the series so exciting.
And, finally, what is your prediction for the three-match series?
If the rain stays away, I think it will be 2-1 to South Africa.