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Strauss pays respect to tourists

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Watch the Kia Oval preview as Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith look forward to going head-to-head in the Investec Test series

Andrew Strauss stopped short of saying the Investec Test series with South Africa is his toughest task as England captain, but emphasised his respect for the Proteas.

On the eve of the Kia Oval opener, the home skipper was asked if this three-game rubber versus Graeme Smith’s side will be his greatest obstacle at the helm.

However, the 35-year-old, who has overseen home and away Ashes wins and guided England to the top of the Test rankings with a whitewash of incumbents India last summer, refused to be drawn.

“It's a very stern challenge. I think South Africa are a very strong side; they have proved that over the last couple of years,” he said. “They will be determined to come and knock us off our perch.”

Opening batsman Strauss is set to face an attack containing number-one ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn and two other members of the top 10: Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.

“South Africa have got a very fine bowling attack,” Strauss added. “The rankings say that and you only have to look at the individuals they've got to know it's going to be a stern challenge.

Andrew Strauss & Graeme Smith

Andrew Strauss believes Graeme Smith's team “are a very strong side”, adding: “They have proved that over the last couple of years.”

“But there are no easy Test attacks to face so we are certainly not approaching it any differently. We always respect the opposition, we always expect them to be hard work to overcome and we'll be going in with that attitude tomorrow.”

England’s number-one ranking will be on the line, with victory for third-placed South Africa enough to usurp Australia and their hosts.

“I'm certainly very excited about it. I think it will be a good gauge for us as to where we are actually,” Strauss said. “The rankings say we are number one, but we have got to go out there and prove that now.

“It's a really exciting time, and I know the 11 players in our team are really excited about the prospect of getting out there and getting stuck into it.”

Having completed a 4-0 thrashing of Australia in the NatWest Series, England regrouped this week in fine fettle.

Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, who have retired from one-day internationals, continued their impressive batting form last week with LV= County Championship hundreds.

“We've had our normal preparation on a Test match week; we've had two outdoor nets. In the run-up to this week some of the guys might have struggled in terms of getting outdoor nets, but that's not the end of the world,” Strauss added.

“The one-day guys have all been playing a lot of cricket and seem in good form, and myself and KP obviously managed to get a game for our counties and got a few runs, so everything on the surface looks fine. Our preparation has been solid.”

Strauss and Pietersen will be playing against the country of their birth, a fact more associated with Pietersen who, unlike Strauss, spent his formative years in South Africa.

The captain said: “The big series bring out the best in him and often when he's had a point to prove he has gone out there and delivered with the bat. The extra context with playing against South Africa as well should be a good motivating factor for him.”

Seamer Graham Onions did not train today due to a hamstring strain, but is expected to fit for selection should he be required by England.

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