Many people will be viewing this series and finding England's claim to number one fame a little hard to believe. It is their form over a prolonged period of time that has led to this of course, but in terms of this series they have barely had control of any passage of play. The South Africans disposed of them with ease in the first test and although the second petered out to a draw, it was the Proteas who were in the driving seat from day one. Andrew Strauss won the toss and inserted the South Africans, a decision that backfired as the Proteas finished on 262/5 at the close of play. Anyone worth their salt knows that if you choose to bowl first in a test match, you want the opposition at least eight down by the end of the day. This wasn't the only missed opportunity rued by the English captain. He dropped a regulation chance to dismiss Alviro Petersen, who went on the make 182 of South Africa's final total of 419 all out.
Day five rolled in with the premonition of a draw, however both captains did everything within their power to find a result. South Africa's opening pair of Rudolph and Smith (Petersen was forced to bat at seven due to a hamstring injury) survived until the last over before lunch, when top scorer Rudolph was dismissed for the second time by KP's innocuous off-spin. The rest of the innings passed quickly as Broad finally hit his straps, and when Smith made the declaration nine down, England were left with a target of 253 off 39 overs. England flirted with chasing the total, opening the batting with KP and moving Prior up to five, but after being reduced to 106/4 with 19 overs remaining, they shut up shop for the draw.
South Africa 18/10
The Poms now find themselves in a highly precarious position. A win at Lord's is the only result that can save the series and their number one ranking, and they will be going into the match without their best player. As much as it sickens me to admit it, Kevin Pietersen is a match-winner and anyone who watched his blitzkrieg 149 would have to agree with me. He is also a master at Lord's. It is no secret that him being in the team disrupts the dressing room, and perhaps his cuddly text messages to some of the South African team members amounted to a step too far, but his presence in the middle-order will be sorely missed. The English batting is not quite as tight as it looked prior to the series. Bell, although able to dig in, has failed for the most part with the bat, and by the looks of things the number five and six positions will be occupied by Taylor and Bairstow. Hardly a formidable middle-order against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander.
All that is required of the Proteas is something they have been doing for years; not losing. For the past six years the South Africans have not lost a series away from home, and with the series poised as it is, this record will remain intact. But it is not the series that is in question, it is the match itself. The Proteas could not find themselves in a better position to take the test throne from England in their own backyard, playing at a ground that they haven't lost at since 1960 and with a solid team that is largely used to success in England. The injury scares to batsmen Smith, Petersen and Kallis are all but a thing of the recent past, and the Proteas should enter the final test with the same full-strength team that has failed to lose thus-far.
Their biggest worry of the series has been the Imran Tahir no-ball issue, but after not overstepping once in last week's warm up, he looks to have put it right. Vernon Philander even began to show promise of being the all-rounder he was talked up to be, scoring 68 not out against Derbyshire. The bowling attack continues to show aggression and determination, not giving up even in the face of Kevin Pietersen's magnificent innings. It's tough to find any weakness in this team, and if they go on to claim the series that they seem so destined to do, I see them securing their position at the top of the test rankings for a stretch.
Lord's, the home of cricket, is among the most prestigious grounds in the world. Managing to get your name up on the honours board is a career goal for most cricketers, especially tourists. This usually results in some quite mesmerising performances at the ground. South Africa have a fantastic record here post-isolation, having won three and drawn one. There's hardly a trace of rain in the forecasts at the moment, so it looks likely we may get a result here.
BEST: Top South African First Innings Batsman, Graeme Smith 4/1
Oh, how Captain Smith loves playing in England. If he could've chosen, the final test would've been at Edgbaston, but Lord's will do just fine. His record here is unbelievable, scoring a double ton and a ton in his last two tests here. There is nothing Graeme Smith likes better than pushing the English around and with a good run of form behind him, he should come right here.
VERDICT: South Africa 18/10
The Proteas have a history of going ahead in series played in England, only to falter at the last hurdle, enabling their rivals to rally and square up the series. This won't happen here. The South Africans are mentally stronger than I've ever seen them, and have utterly dominated this English unit. Without the services of Kevin Pietersen, the English may as well kiss their number one ranking goodbye.
Written by @IAMaverickWhite for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Think we've got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this one is going to play out.