Marcus Trescothick: I expect England to overcome West Indies and South Africa this summer
ENGLAND will confirm their position as the best Test side in the world this summer by beating West Indies and South Africa. That's my prediction going into what promises to be a fantastic season of international cricket in this country. But I have to say that I expect South Africa to present the toughest of challenges.
I only wish the series against them was five matches instead of three because it has all the ingredients to provide some epic battles.
Last summer, we hoped for a really titanic clash between England and India, but it never materialised because we were so good and India so poor.
I can't see the same gulf existing between the sides when South Africa are in opposition. In fact, the teams appear so closely matched that I foresee many twists and turns, even over a period of just three games.
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West Indies are the ideal side for England to take on as preparation for the main event because they are still in something of a transitional period and will not relish the ball swinging around, as it tends to do over here.
They will be a different proposition if Chris Gayle is in the tour party – something Somerset have a vested interest in, having signed him to play Twenty20 cricket for us this season.
That won't happen if Chris is selected by his country and we expect to know any time now which course he is going to take. He remains a formidable player at international level and the same applies to Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
But a number of the West Indies team lack experience and I would expect England to win two of the three Tests, should they run their full course.
Although the winter began disappointingly for us with the series defeat by Pakistan, I felt that was largely due to the squad arriving under-prepared after a lengthy break from hard, competitive international action.
We got better as the winter went on and did very well to win the second Test against Sri Lanka by eight wickets in Colombo, because that is a really tough place to play.
I don't foresee many changes to the England team this summer, although the number six batting spot is up for grabs and it will be interesting to see who we select as third seamer to go with James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
My money is on Ravi Bopara to replace Samit Patel in the middle-order. Patel did okay during the winter, but was selected mainly to act as a second spinner in sub-continent conditions.
Bopara offers a different bowling option, more suitable in England, and if he can get some runs under his belt in the build-up to the first Test against West Indies at Lord's, which starts on May 17, he may well get the nod.
As far as the third seam bowling position is concerned, I would lean towards Tim Bresnan, although Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn will be strong candidates.
Again it is horses for courses. Bresnan is very effective in English conditions and if he supports Anderson and Broad, I think England will have the match for the hugely talented South African pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.
Make no mistake, those three are all world-class bowlers and our batsmen are going to have a tough time combating them.
South Africa also have the option of young Marchant de Lange, who is reputed to be genuinely quick, and may have a slight advantage over England in that they also have the skills of Jacques Kallis as a fourth seamer.
Now that they have leg-spinner Imran Tahir in their squad, they appear to have all bases pretty much covered. But Tahir has not yet proved the force in international cricket many expected and the way he bowls gives opportunity to score on both sides of the wicket.
With only three matches involved, drawing first blood at The Oval in the opening Test of the series, starting on July 19, is going to be vitally important.
Unlike West Indies, the South Africa team is packed with players experienced in English conditions and well known to supporters over here. Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Kallis are all capable of making big runs.
They will know exactly what to expect from our pitches and England will need to be at their best to prevail. Having said that, I believe we are capable of beating them on home soil and anticipate victory by a narrow margin over three absorbing contests.
Finally this week, an update on my injury situation following surgery a week ago. The initial news was not good in that it was discovered that a tendon in my ankle had been ruptured.
I have been in a cast since the operation and I am due to have a different one fitted today. I can get around on crutches, but it is too early to make even a tentative prediction about when I will be fit to play again.
A couple of months has been mentioned, but that is pretty much guesswork.
All I can say is that I will be working as hard as possible to keep the recovery time to a minimum.
Interview: Richard Latham