London – James Anderson believes England will have to be patient as never before if they are to maintain their world number one Test ranking against a South Africa side who are masters of playing under pressure.
South Africa will replace England at the top of the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings if they emerge victorious in a three-Test series that gets underway at The Oval here on Thursday.
Both sides boast arguably the world's two best pace attacks, with Anderson leading an England line-up that includes the likes of Stuart Broad.
South Africa are set to give the new ball to Dale Steyn, officially the world's leading Test bowler and a genuine quick whose record stands comparison with some of the game's all-time greats.
Steyn is set to be supported by paceman Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, who in just seven Test has already taken a staggering 51 wickets while a further seam bowling option is provided by veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
Meanwhile the Proteas' batting order boasts of four players in the world's top 10 and England spearhead Anderson told Sky Sports:
“It's going to be a huge challenge.
“The last couple of times South Africa have been over here they've played really well and beaten us. Both attacks have shown in the last 18 months that they are strong units. I think it'll be a good battle.
“It's going to be really important that our bowling attack's on top form because their batting unit's really strong.
“I see they've got six key wickets, they've got such a strong batting line-up that every wicket's crucial. They've got some great players in there and we're going to have to be on the top of our game.
“We're looking forward to it, we like testing ourselves against the best in the world and there's four of their guys in the top 10, so it should be a good challenge.
“South Africa probably soak up pressure better than anybody else in the world, so we might have to be more patient than we have in recent series and that's going to be our biggest test.”
The Proteas were the last visiting side to win a Test series in England, back in 2008, and Anderson added: “A lot of the guys played in that series, we're well aware of it.
“They played really well last time they were over here and they're going to be strong in our conditions with both the bat and the ball.
“But confidence is high, we're really excited to be playing such a strong team.
“It's going to be a really tough three-match series for us, we're going to have to be on top form to have chance of winning.”
Several of England's leading batsmen have been in good form recently, including South Africa-born Kevin Pietersen, always a prize wicket for the Proteas especially.
Pietersen scored 80 and 78 in his last two Tests against the West Indies and an unbeaten 234 for Surrey against county champions Lancashire, having opted out of limited overs internationals.
Anderson refused to be drawn on talk Pietersen could reverse his decision but said: “Something we're excited about is the form he's shown this summer.
“He's carried it on from the IPL (Indian Premier League) and hopefully he can carry it on to end of this series.” – Sapa-AFP