Stiff upper lip looking a bit smug
ENGLISH journalists are a funny lot. Not the kind that make you laugh, the kind that make you raise your eyebrows - half in surprise, half in shock. They do not talk much to their South African counterparts, unless they have to. The only ones that have to are those who work in broadcast media because, occasionally, they want our opinions.
On this tour, they have sought views on the current climate of the South African dressing room sans Mark Boucher, asked questions about Graeme Smith's public persona after Morgan-gate, marvelled at Vernon Philander's consistency while predicting its swift end, and inquired about Thami Tsolekile - most of them mispronouncing his name spectacularly.
All reasonable questions, until this one: "Do South Africans expect their team to win or do they think England will take it easily?"
Really? Surely, even in all their smugness, the English media do not think that the South African team's only expectation is to drink tea, walk the high streets and mess around in the rain?
Perhaps it was just a matter of phrasing. England have dominated at home for the last four years and visiting teams are thought to stand little chance. Perhaps it was a matter of underestimation. South Africa have not lost on the road in six years.
Perhaps it is what happens when you are not used to being this good. One English supporter confessed that, if someone had told him in the early 1990s that England would beat Australia 4-0 in a one-day series, he would have laughed. Now that they have done it, he is laughing, but for different reasons.
In fact, almost everyone in cricket in England is laughing. They believe they have a team that borders on greatness and they might be right. They are top-heavy, have a dangerous attack and a quality spinner. They have a coach who can marry those elements and a captain who can manage them.
They sound just as well-equipped as the team they are about to play against. South Africa have all those things too, but the English media would never say so.
Jacques Kallis is perennially the most under-appreciated great of our time. When Makhaya Ntini took 10 wickets at Lord's in 2003, it was mentioned in the sixth paragraph of The Daily Telegraph's match report as an afterthought to Andrew Flintoff's century in a losing cause. That same newspaper rated the South African attack as 28 out of 40 and the English attack 32.
No wonder, then, that they assume that South Africans do not expect too much of their team. They cannot fathom what years of being second-best has done. It has burdened the side so heavily that it had to summit mountains in Switzerland to try to rid itself of the pressure. They are a funny lot too and, in six weeks' time, South Africa will hope they can laugh - for the right reasons, too.