Tourists on brink of a top-notch victory

Andy Lloyd
FINALLY, after six or seven weeks of character-building and good old-fashioned hard graft, this is it.

The fourth and final Test in Johannesburg, starting this morning, is simply a massive game for Andrew Strauss’ men, who, against all odds, have battled their way into a position to win a truly top-notch away series victory against a very good South African side.

Much of the pre-Test talk has been about the preparation of the Wanderers wicket, but England will certainly not get carried away with that. Yes, Graeme Smith will be encouraged by the extra green on the pitch to benefit his seamers, but England have proved they can match the South Africans in every department and Strauss has nothing to fear.

South Africa may gamble and bring in a fourth seamer in Ryan McLaren in place of spinner Paul Harris, but England will not be tempted to do likewise.

Graeme Swann has taken more wickets than anyone this series and is absolutely key to this developing England side. They would be crazy to change anything at this stage.

Again, the toss first thing this morning will be crucial. South Africa need to take 20 wickets and will want to put England in early to give themselves more time to do just that. Strauss, I suspect, will want to do likewise to make early inroads into the South Africa batting line-up to try and force a winning position.

Both sides will have taken confidence from the third Test in Cape Town for different reasons, but Strauss will be aware his side need to raise their game an extra notch in all departments if they are to add this to their success in Durban. Bar Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, they didn’t bat well at Newlands, but with so much riding on this match, I expect the big guns to come to the fore.

Out-of-form Kevin Pietersen is suffering a return to normality at the moment, but that, I believe, is a healthy sign for England. He’s taken stick from the home crowd, but you wouldn’t put it past him to silence his critics with a match-winning knock just when it was needed most.