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South Africa will send their most powerful, well-balanced squad since isolation to battle current leaders England for the No 1 berth in Test cricket.
The national selectors on Wednesday named the same 15-man squad for the tour that comfortably beat the Black Caps 1-0 in their last Test series in New Zealand in March.
“The players fully deserve a vote of confidence after the outstanding manner in which they outplayed New Zealand away from home,” said convener Andrew Hudson. “We are now building up excellent depth in both the batting and bowling departments.”
He described the squad as “awesome”, saying it was composed of players with “unbelievable talent”. He said the batsmen were all in form and had significant experience of English and worldwide conditions. As for the pace attack, Hudson – a former opening batsman for South Africa – said he would “hate to have to face it”.
“This is a wonderful team and I have every confidence that they’ll do the job.”
The Proteas last visited England in 2008 when they completed a 2-1 series victory, their first since 1965.
There are six changes in the current squad with third seamer Vernon Philander probably the most significant of them. The Cape paceman, named SA Cricketer and Test Cricketer of the Year this month, reached 50 wickets in just seven Tests last summer against Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
“Vernon is perfectly suited to English conditions,” said Hudson, noting that the Cobras paceman had recently familiarised himself with English conditions and the Duke ball while playing for Somerset.
Hudson wryly noted that the pre-tour hype had already begun. Last month England bowling coach David Saker favourably compared the current England attack of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann with that of the great Australian grouping of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne.
Hudson would not comment on that but did say that “most other countries would be very happy to have the fast bowling resources we have at the moment.”
Aside from his first-choice grouping of Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel and Philander, he described back-up paceman Marchant de Lange as “most impressive” since his seven-wicket debut against Sri Lanka in Durban while Lonwabo Tsotsobe offered a useful left-arm option.
Hudson said although the squad was lacking in match practice, he was confident Graeme Smith’s men would be sufficiently prepared before the first Test at the Oval on July 19. As in 2008, the Proteas will have two warm-up matches, the first against Somerset at Taunton on July 9-10 and the second against Kent at Canterbury on July 13-15.
The other two Tests would be played at Headingley (from August 2-6) and Lord’s (August 16-20).
“The key is that we hit the ground running from ball one of the first Test,” said Hudson.
This will be wicketkeeper Mark Boucher’s final trip to England before he is set to retire from international cricket. Hudson said that AB de Villiers would be the back-up’ keeper for the series.
The Proteas leave for England on July 5.
*Hashim Amla will replace Johan Botha (knee injury) as captain of the Proteas T20 team for the triangular with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh later this month.
Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher (w/k), Marchant de Lange, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Morné Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Jacques Rudolph, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Itinerary: v Somerset (Taunton, July 9-10); v Kent (Canterbury, July 13-15); 1st Test (Oval, July 19-23); v Worcestershire (New Road, July 27-28); 2nd Test (Headingley, August 2-6); v Derbyshire (Derby, August 10-11); 3rd Test (Lord’s, August 16-20) – The Mercury