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Stuart Dalgleish 16th Jul 2012 - 14:14

England to make it eight in a row

England v South Africa preview - Thursday 11:00 live on Sky Sports 1

England (Evens for the series) will be looking to put some distance between themselves and South Africa (15/8, drawn series 3/1) in the Test rankings when the two teams meet for a three-match series.

It should be a fascinating set of games, and once again we're left wondering why this isn't a longer series considering they're set to play eight limited-overs games after the Tests.

I can understand the need for T20s when the World Twenty20 is on the horizon, but the longer format of the game needs to be protected a bit more, an extra Test would have been better than playing five ODIs.

Anyway, we're left to witness three Test matches, and England will be hoping to continue their fantastic run of form on home turf.

The Three Lions have won seven home Test series in a row and are unbeaten in four years on home soil, South Africa being the last team to come away from the UK with a series win.

The Proteas' hopes of another win on these shores have taken a blow after the excellent Mark Boucher was forced to retire after a bail flew into his eye, AB de Villiers (7/2 top SA bat) will take his place behind the stumps as he has done in several limited-overs matches, but a Test series against one of the best bowling attacks in the game is a different scenario entirely.

That's what is set to make this series such an exciting one to watch, the prospect of six of the world's best Test bowlers thriving in the conditions of the 'glorious' British summer should be fascinating.

There should also be plenty of sledging going on between Dale Steyn (2/1 top SA bowl) and England's South African-born batsmen, the fiery fast bowler set the wheels in motion when he said that Kevin Pietersen (7/2 top Eng bat) and Jonathan Trott (7/2) would not get into the current South Africa team, he may be right.

The two batsman are outstanding talents in their own right, but even they might struggle to dislodge Hashim Amla (3/1 top SA bat), Jacques Kallis (10/3), De Villiers, Graeme Smith (9/2) and Alviro Petersen (11/2).

Of course, England have an extremely strong batting line-up themselves, with the likes of Andrew Strauss (9/2), Ian Bell (11/2 top Eng bat) and Alastair Cook (10/3) all showing good form, the latter two also following up their Test exploits in the limited-overs games.

Another player to emerge with great credit from the short forms is Ravi Bopara (10/1); the Essex batsman is back in Test colours for the first time in nearly a year and could nail down that number six slot that Jonny Bairstow (16/1) and Eoin Morgan have struggled to fill.

I would imagine that will be the only change to England's starting XI; Graeme Onions (14/1 top Eng bowl) and Steven Finn (8/1) both performed well in the final Test against West Indies, but neither of them are likely to take Tim Bresnan's (9/2) place, the other three spots are set in stone.

South Africa's team pretty much picks itself, but they will have a choice to make in their batting line-up after Boucher's unfortunate injury.

JP Duminy (10/1 top SA bat) will probably get the nod over Robin Peterson (40/1), Jacques Rudolph (9/1) should play as he's vastly experienced in these conditions having enjoyed a hugely successful spell with Yorkshire and is currently playing with Surrey.

The Proteas are unbeaten away from home since 2006, including wins here and in Australia, and they will push England all the way, you've always got to account for a drawn match thanks to the weather so I'd have a look at either 2-0 England or maybe South Africa to nick a Test and draw the series 1-1 at odds of 9/2.

A little outside bet I've had is on Matt Prior top England batsman (14/1), the wicketkeeper enjoyed a great spell last summer with two centuries and two fifties, and got a couple of good knocks in England's troubled winter tours, he has been looking good domestically and should get plenty more time at the crease as England's top order will not be as dominant as they were against West Indies.

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