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Thu Apr 17 08:45:27 SAST 2014

Proteas focused on No1 spot

MARK SALTER in London | 19 July, 2012 07:320 Comments
England And South Africa Nets Session
South Africa captain Graeme Smith walks across the outfield after a nets session at The Oval on July 18, 2012 in London, England
Image by: Gareth Copley / Getty Images

GRAEME Smith yesterday paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, saying the team needed no further motivation to take the No1 spot in test cricket.

Amid all the Olympic hoopla, a test match is about to dominate this city's sporting landscape - at least for the next five days at the Oval.

South Africa and England come to grips in the first of three tests that will decide whether the home team keeps its No1 test crown or has its throne usurped by the visitors.

Both teams have powerful seam attacks, depth of batting, confidence and history.

South Africa may emerge stronger in attack, with Jacques Kallis providing an extra dimension in seam, and Imran Tahir and JP Duminy offering variety in spin.

England, meanwhile, boast - in Tim Bresnan - a strike bowler with a batting average of 40 at No8. Also Stuart Broad, at No9, has nine fifties and a hundred.

The big furore, however, is over England's No4, Kevin Pietersen, who is embroiled in a battle with his board over his playing schedule.

But captain Andrew Strauss says this spat has not caused any distractions in the dressing-room.

"We have more important matters to focus on in the coming weeks," said Strauss.

Nevertheless, there must be slight unease, as England need Pietersen to be firing on all cylinders.

There is still the issue of losing eight wickets for 154 runs against a less than menacing West Indies attack in the first test in May, and the recollection that Ravi Bopara at No6 has been limited to just 12 tests, due not only to injury but also inconsistency.

However, said Smith: "We are discussing [Pietersen] only in terms of how we get him [out], as we do with any other player," said Smith.

"What is important for us is clarity about what we have to do and reaching a high level consistently over 15 tough days of cricket. It is easy to get emotional about a build-up; it is more important to be clear about our goals."

And that clarity is vital, for in a three-test series there is little opportunity to regroup and turn it around if the first test slips away.

This team, too, needs to overcome its own distractions, in particular the sudden loss of wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.

"Mark is still with us in many ways," said Smith.

"He has sent us his wishes and wants us to get on with the game.

"It is wrong to say he won't be missed, but it has also provided guys with an opportunity to fill the gaps.

"AB [de Villiers] is looking forward to the task of keeping; in fact it may bring out the best in him. He relishes responsibility."

Smith is also confident about his attack.

"This wicket should suit us; it is a bit more bouncy and it could turn later on."

Smith, who says he has been "renewed" under the coaching management of Gary Kirsten, is also doing his best to put aside the celebrations of his 100th test.

While accepting it is an "extremely proud moment", he is focused on the bigger things at stake.

"The way people have made it special for me obviously means a lot, but it comes down to the cricket."

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Proteas focused on No1 spot

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