England’s three match Test series against South Africa starts this Thursday. Besides the Australians, who quite frankly are up to the challenge, South Africa are the team to beat for England. There’s a fantastic if relatively short history between the two sides and it’s certainly the highlight series for our England cricket hospitality clients.

It all started (again) in 1994 when the South Africans toured England three years after being readmitted by the ICC. It was their first visit since 1965. Lord’s played host to the first Test but the home crowd couldn’t help but look on as South Africa crushed England, with a century coming from their captain Wessels. A draw followed at Headingley before a stunning England victory at The Oval. Devon Malcolm took 9-57, the 4th best haul by an England player.

What made Malcolm’s performance all the sweeter was his warning the Proteas after getting hit on the helmet before he bowled – “You guys are history”. Malcolm this week went on record to say he believes despite the South African’s awesome bowling attack, they’ll struggle to beat an England side who’re firing in all departments.

“Dale Steyn swings the ball and is quick, Morne Morkel gets bounce and Vernon Philander has probably become the pick of them in a short space of time.

“But I believe our batsmen will handle them in our own conditions. I’m not sure how their batsmen will handle our bowlers though.”

The South Africans also have a nasty habit of retiring England captains. First was Nasser Hussain in 2003 who conceded he had “grown tired” as skipper. This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that despite his attempts to play mind games, the 22-year old South African counterpart Graeme Smith set a new record for the highest score by an overseas batsman at Lord’s of 259. Then came Michael Vaughan in 2008 after England handed the series to the South Africans after looking set for victory. It was their third series loss in their last five rubbers but still Vaughan’s decision came as shock to the public and his team-mates alike.

It wouldn’t be a round-up of the rivalry between England and South Africa without mentioning Mike Atherton and Allan Donald’s famous duel back in 2008. In what was one of sports greatest displays of fire and passion, both men gave their absolute all. Atherton held on during Donald’s assault (both bowling and verbal) on the fourth evening and went on to make 98 not out.

Onto the present and South Africa’s bowlers are no less fierce. The focus of England’s upcoming three match series against South Africa has been dominated by talk of their bowling attacks. South Africa’s seam-bowling attack features Dale Steyn who is regarded as the world’s best bowler and has the statistics to back it up. England’s attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan are certainly in-form and will be looking to out gun the South Africans. Steyn however refuses to focus too much on the potential competition he’ll face, in particular from Anderson, saying earlier this week.

“No, no, no. If I focus on how many wickets Jimmy gets then I’m rocketing off the path. Maybe I did get caught up in that three or four years ago. Stats have flown out of my head now.”

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However South Africa batsman Ashwell Prince believes victory in the series lies not with the seam-bowlers but the spin. He believes Graeme Swann could be the South African’s undoing, and believes the South African spinner Imran Tahir isn’t up to the task. What is clear however is this series is undoubtedly England’s biggest test since rising to number one in the ICC Test Rankings. The series winner will be able to say without doubt they’re number one in the world and with that build on their success in order to become remembered as one of the great cricket sides. The series starts this Thursday at The Oval, with the 2nd Test at Headingley and 3rd Lord’s.