Andrew Strauss v Graeme Smith
They’re both brilliant leaders and strong characters, with amazing amounts of mental toughness. As a batsman, Smith is incredibly strong off his pads because he plays with a closed face and has a strong bottom hand. But England believe he’s an lbw candidate too, so it’ll be a fine line between taking his wicket and going for runs through the leg side. Strauss prefers to play off the back foot – he’s got a superb cut shot. I suspect Morne Morkel will go round the wicket and try to cramp him for room.
Verdict: Smith has seen off two England captains (me included), but I think he’s the more vulnerable of the two men this time.
Kevin Pietersen v Jacques Kallis
Kallis says ‘look at my stats’, while Pietersen screams ‘look at me’. Kallis is just a legend of the game, and if you had to pick one of the two to bat for your life, you’d say Kallis every time. But he can disappear into his own bubble a bit, and four years ago here England bowled well to him, squaring him up and restricting him to an average of 14. Pietersen is an exhibitionist – the kind of guy you’d pay to watch. He just needs to take his time: have a look at the bowling, then attack.
Verdict: Pietersen in England, Kallis everywhere else.
Matt Prior v AB de Villiers
The first time I saw De Villiers bat, I thought he was a fantastic player. In fact, he’s the epitome of the modern batsman: he can attack, hit big, dive around, and take the gloves. And he’s hungry. You only need to read his tweets to see how much he loves and lives cricket. Prior is perfect for No 7 because he counter-attacks so well. And his keeping has improved out of sight. He’ll also keep England on their toes if and when they need a wicket.
Verdict: Chalk and cheese – De Villiers for his batting, Prior for his keeping.
Graeme Swann v Imran Tahir
Swann is a massive threat to the left-handers – Smith, Jacques Rudolph and JP Duminy – especially with DRS in use in this series. Their right-handers, such as De Villiers and even Kallis, will try to attack him, but he’s a high-class operator these days. Tahir is different – a temperamental leggie who has been working with Abdul Qadir and shares something of the Pakistani’s run-up and action. He also has an excellent googly. He can bowl some rubbish, but don’t forget England can struggle against mystery spin.
Verdict: Swann has the edge, especially with his runs down the batting order.
Jimmy Anderson v Dale Steyn
Steyn is an out-and-out quick, while Anderson is the king of swing. But they’re both brilliant. Steyn will look to hit the stumps or knock your block off – he loves taking wickets, even if it means giving away a few runs. Jimmy is exceptionally skilful: he can send down an outswinger or an inswinger without any discernible change of action, and that’s enough to trouble the best. He does fret a bit about giving away runs, but he’s at the peak of his powers – and I reckon he bowls a bit better to left-handers than Steyn does.
Verdict: Steyn to edge it. – Daily Mail