Cricket-wise, South Africa have always struck me as being very much like Australia, but slightly less so - almost like Australia's less talented younger brother. They have the same brash attitude, but without the skill or the cojones to back it up. There's also a slight character flaw which causes them to 'bottle' it which the chips are down - Gibbs dropping Steve Waugh, the two World Cup farces and Boucher dropping Hussain at Trent Bridge. So maybe they are the younger brother who was conceived when the mother had a quickie with the the insecure door to door encyclopaedia salesman.
Without delving too deep into the psychology of national identity, the overall impression you get is that there's a slight chip on the collective national shoulder. This is probably due to their recent history, which is 'sketchy' to say the least, and seems to run along the lines of - 'yes, yes yes, apartheid was dreadful (dridful?) and we're truly sorry, but what about what you Brits did to the Boers in 1902 eh?' Now, that's fair comment - we all have our historical baggage to carry around with us, but theirs just happens to be far more recent, and was far more public. They were also stupid enough to lock up the nearest the world has ever had to a living saint for thirty years. However many truth and reconciliation committees they have, you get the impression that some still haven't quite left it behind - witness the continual kerfuffle over 'quotas'. What's wrong with having a preset proportion of blacks in the squad - after all, for years they contrived to have certain proportion of whites - it's just that the proportion was 100 per cent...
Then there's the accent. Clive James memorably described sitting between two South Africans on a flight who spent the whole ten hours talking across him, and getting off feeling like he'd been beaten up.
It's difficult to hold any deep loathing of this current touring party - mainly because the name 'Gibbs' is absent from the squad list - presumably he's now doing sterling work for South African diplomatic service. No Jonty Rhodes either - Athers will be happy!
Stalking the squad like Banquo however, is the ever present spectre of Hansie Cronje. What he did is beneath contempt - yet almost everyone who see interviewed, including Allan Donald in the Observer yesterday, talk of what an extraordinary person he was. Yeah, so extraordinary he took bribes, and persuaded young players in his team to do the same. In a recent TV documentary, the late Bob Woolmer spoke of a team meeting in India that Cronje called to decide what to do about an offer to throw the game that they'd received froman Indian bookie - the meeting apparently went on for some time. Some time?! Just how long does it take to tell a bookie to ''f*** off''?
Whatever - it should be a good series. The four South African quick bowlers are being talked up as though they are the second coming of the four horsemen of the apocalyse - you wonder without Pollock, or a decent spinner, who is going to provide the control required on a docile wicket.
Their batting looks pretty strong - De Villiers, Amla, Smith, Mackenzie and the 83 year old Kallis.
Ultimately it probably comes down to the weather, and how long England have to wait before they can bring back Flintoff - presumably once the selectors have finally decided which of the top six batsmen they're going to drop. So around 2012 then!