Cricket at height of sporting summer
Posted in England
It is fair to say British sport lovers have plenty to look forward to over the next few weeks.
The 141st Open Championship begins at Royal Lytham and St Annes tomorrow, while - at the time of writing - Bradley Wiggins remains on course for a famous victory in the Tour de France.
A new football season is also creeping ever closer, the finalists for rugby league's Challenge Cup have been decided and there is the small matter of the London 2012 Olympic Games, quite simply the biggest peacetime spectacle this country will have ever witnessed.
Amidst all this, however, I find myself more excited about another sporting battle, which gets under way in the capital this week.
England and South Africa will face off in a three-match Investec Test series with the title of the world's finest team up for grabs.
What a contest it promises to be.
Almost a year has passed since Andrew Strauss' men ascended to the summit of the International Cricket Council Test rankings with a sensational 4-0 trouncing of India.
If they are to retain top spot, they must see off a star-studded side packed with experience and quality.
However, South Africa's preparation for the series has been far from ideal.
James Hildreth, Peter Trego, Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond all enjoyed success against an attack that failed to hit their straps in warm-up matches against Somerset and Kent.
The Proteas have also lost two members of their touring party - a young starlet in seamer Marchant de Lange and, more significantly, veteran wicketkeeper Mark Boucher. The latter's international career was ended in desperately unfortunate fashion when he suffered a freak eye injury at Taunton.
Despite this, South Africa should not be underestimated.
A batting line-up featuring the likes of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers will provide a stiff challenge to England's talented attack, while Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander represent a fearsome pace trio.
Then there is Jacques Kallis, whose statistics with bat and ball mark him as one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game.
England will, of course, be full of confidence, and with good reason.
Under the guidance of Andy Flower, they have achieved consistent success at home in recent years and rarely can an international team have boasted so many players in form at one time.
Ian Bell, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ravi Bopara and Steven Finn all shone brightly in the 4-0 NatWest Series victory over Australia, while two players not involved in that rubber - Strauss and Kevin Pietersen - plundered high scores in the LV= County Championship last week.
All in all, there is plenty to whet the appetite.
I, for one, cannot wait.