Proteas need Boucher spirit
A SERIES between South Africa and England is exciting at any time, but the one starting on Thursday has all the ingredients of a blockbuster.
South African fans always have a high expectation of any of their sporting teams and most think that the firepower of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and the class of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis will whip England into shape. Sorry, but it won't be that easy, and it will take all the resolve of the team and coach Gary Kirsten to conjure up a victory.
England have Flower power. Andy Flower has done a wonderful job behind the scenes plotting the England passage to No1 and he will be just as thorough this time.
What of the South African make-up as they go into the test with little game time?
Nets are important but there is no substitute for game time and South Africa have had little because of all the rain.
The weather plays a bigger part in the game in England than anywhere else. Often groundsmen are stretched to prepare wickets in and out of showers.
It has been a wet summer, so the expectation is for wickets that might help the bowlers, except if the outfield is wet and holding the ball becomes difficult.
Let's pray that the end of summer is a lot better than the beginning so that victories are not based on who has the luck with the weather but who has the cricketing skill.
Mark Boucher will not be there and I add my regret. Much has been written - all good - and he will be missed. His combative spirit has been a pillar of South African successes.
We will soon tell how much England gain from his absence or how South Africa can unite in adversity and make it a rallying point.
De Villiers' keeping is a safe option and allows another batsman to play, but, even with all his talent, can he muster the stamina to keep in a test and also give of his best with the bat? Probably yes. He loves a challenge, but with Boucher out he will also need to be a back-up for Graeme Smith in the tactics stakes - mentally a big ask.
Wicketkeeping is an art that you love, want to do almost from under-11 and can't think much of anything else. Has AB that passion?
South African firepower is beyond doubt, but what role for Imran Tahir? Cold weather and a wet ball are just about the worst things for a legspinner, but I think he still has an important role - to "roll" 8, 9, 10 and 11, something South Africa have had trouble with in the past.
Wrist spinners do it well and Tahir better than most, so it is important how and when Smith uses his spinning option. Tahir is not a containing bowler like Paul Harris but an attacking option, and, used at the right time, he can play an important part.
Both teams can do justice to a contest that will resolve the No1 spot in test cricket. The X factor might be the defining difference. Boucher had it. Will his team inherit it?