Second Test preview: England v SA

Outgunned, outlasted and largely outed at The Oval, England require a convincing reply when the middle installment of the series trilogy gets underway in Headingley.

Outgunned, outlasted and largely outed at The Oval, England require a convincing reply when the middle installment of the series trilogy gets underway in Headingley.

The number one-ranked Test nation have done nothing but slide since clinching the mantle from India last year, when the mace – and the limelight – was arguably gifted to the Andrew Strauss and company prematurely.

Yes, they had beaten Australia. Indeed, they had trounced the Indians, but an opposition that was always going to level the playing field had not yet been encountered.

That has happened now, once at least, and by the account witnessed in London, England have met their match in a Proteas unit considerably more diverse than their hosts.

Questions surrounding the makeup of the XI were put to bed earlier this week, with coach Andy Flower acknowledging the unlikelihood of five bowlers. So, James Taylor will become the team's fifth number sixth batsman this year – and seems more equipped than Jonny Bairstow ever was.

Who will accompany James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, though, hangs in the balance. Steven Finn continues to wait in the wings, but must be his closest yet to ousting Tim Bresnan. While Headingley is sure to suit Bresnan's swing at his homeground, the additional pace of Finn would bring a welcome dynamic to an attack otherwise lined with right-arm seamers.

Yorkshire might know something we don't, already nominating the unlucky Richard Pyrah to give way for Bresnan, if dropped by England, for their County Championship clash against Northamptonshire.

South Africa, meanwhile, have rendered those murmurings of being undercooked entirely redundant. The highs of The Oval, though, need balancing out – and will certainly have the scales evened in Leeds.

Their biggest concern is the form of the batsmen who didn't get a chance on either side of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, and Jacques Kallis dominance in London. JP Duminy and Alviro Petersen flopped in the tour match against Worcestershire, while Jacques Rudolph's promise was snubbed by the draw.

The opposing seam attacks, worlds apart at The Oval, will be more evenly matched in Yorkshire, where overhead conditions almost always primes play for swing and seam. So, it's the spin bowling ranks that could prove the difference.

The leg-spin of Imran Tahir only just started to find its groove in London, where he was the perfect foil Dale Steyn on day five. Tahir will demand the maincourse after his taste of success last week, while Swann can only hide his growing elbow concerns for so long. The recurring injury is catching up with him, and it showed in an ineffective display in the series opener.

All in all, regardless of initial inadequacy and potentially empty promise, we are in for another enthralling contest. The battle for number one is alive and well, with the team up for the longer fight (a full five days of gruelling Test cricket is no easy matter, even for the seasoned sportsman) bound to secure the title.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>England:</i> The home seam attack, bar their collective failure at The Oval, would not be as vaunted as it is were it not for the complementary force of <b>Graeme Swann</b>. The spinner is in the middle of a patch of struggle, though, but needs to return to his former glory if the hosts are to square the series.

<i>South Africa:</i> The man for the big occasion, and often the one to triumph over daunting conditions, <b>Graeme Smith</b> needs to lead from the front again. Should he lose the toss, he will undoubtedly find himself at the crease first – on a trying track. His mettle will be truly tested midway through a career-defining series.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2012: First Test: South Africa won by an innings and 12 runs at The Oval<br>2010: Fourth Test: South Africa won by an innings and 74 runs at the Wanderers<br>2010: Third Test: Match drawn at Newlands<br>2009: Second Test: England won by an innings and 98 runs at Kingsmead<br>2009: First Test: Match drawn at Centurion

<b>Prediction:</b><br>The nature of the sides' recent recent results – three innings victories in the last four fixtures – and a results-driven deck suggests another blowout win at Headingley. The threat of inclement weather, however, could bring a tighter affair. England for the win, setting up epic decider at Lords.

Online betting firm <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have England at 2/1 to win in the second Test. South Africa enjoy the same odds, while a draw is placed at 11/8. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>England:</i> Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, James Taylor, Matt Prior (wicketkeeper), Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, James Anderson.

<i>South Africa:</i> Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Jacques Rudolph, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir.

<b>Dates:</b> 2 to 6 August<br><b>Morning session:</b> 11:00-13:00 (10:00-12:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:40-15:40 (12:40-14:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 16:00-18:00 (15:00-17:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Rod Tucker and Steve Davis<br><B>Third umpire:</B> Asad Rauf<BR><b>Match referee:</b> Jeff Crowe