Skippers braced for battle

Last updated at 08:26 17 December 2004

England and South Africa prepare to lock horns in the opening Test today with both captains predicting the series will again be bristling with aggression and verbal exchanges as each side attempts to claim an early advantage.

The last time the two rivals met in England 15 months ago the series was deadlocked at 2-2 but it was also littered with incidents including an angry dispute between South African captain Graeme Smith and Nasser Hussain and Andrew Flintoff's ongoing war of words with fellow all-rounder Jacques Kallis.

Some of the personnel may have changed since, but the sentiment is still there and both captains are determined their side will not shirk any confrontations when the first of five Tests in six weeks begins at St George's Park today.

"In most Test series there are generally a few battles and confrontations and against South Africa over the years there have probably been a couple more and I am sure this series will be no different," claimed England captain Michael Vaughan, whose side have also been briefed on which new members of the opposition may become affected by verbal pressure.

"We will certainly be up for the challenge - if it gets heated we will be ready, but we are also just going to concentrate on our own performance. We have got game-plans on all their players and we have also got mental plans on a few of their players.

"I am sure they will be very vocal because they were vocal in the A team match over the weekend, but we have research on how players react in different situations - it is not just technical out in the middle and the odd bit of verbal might affect some players and it might not affect others but we have done our homework on that side."

Smith, who enjoyed his first series against England by scoring two double centuries and averaged nearly 80, is equally as insistent that his side will not back down if they are tempted into a confrontation.

"I think it will be aggressive again," said Smith. "Apparently the A game was quite fiery last week and we certainly expect a tough-fought series and an aggressive series - that is the way we play and England have come here with an aggressive team and pace attack and will be looking to dominate and we are going to look to do the same.

"We have two teams fighting for wins for their country so it is always going to get explosive at times. I don't know if anything is planned at the beginning, but it just seems to happen. We both play our cricket hard and tough and I am sure there will be one or two incidents."

South Africa are also banking on the unknown factor possibly upsetting England and are expected to give opening batsman AB de Villiers, who played for Northern Irish league club Carrickfergus last year, and fast bowler Dale Steyn their Test debuts.

"There is a lot of inexperience in our side, there is a lot talent and there are a lot of guys who are young but in form and there is a big unknown factor which can level out the inexperience," claimed Smith.

"The English don't know a lot about our guys and it is important they come and contribute. There is the experience of the guys who you would think can win Test matches for us and if we can get good performances out of our young guys we will go a long way towards winning a Test match."

All-rounder Kallis may be able to bowl later in the match after struggling to overcome an ankle problem while South Africa's only other dilemma is whether to select Boeta Dippenaar or Zander de Bruyn in their top order.

England are expected to retain the same side that slipped to a seven-wicket defeat against South Africa A at Potchefstroom last weekend with Glamorgan's Simon Jones claiming the final seamer's role ahead of James Anderson.