YOU only have to listen to South African coach Mickey Arthur to know just how well England’s cricketers have done here this winter.
The hyper-confident Arthur, 41, is a shadow of the man who took his nation to the top of the rankings in both Tests and One-Dayers last year.
As he approaches Thursday’s final Test at the Wanderers where a draw will give England the four-match series 1-0, Arthur (pictured) groans: “We’ve got to gamble because we have to win this Test. There is no option.
"I know the boys are smarting, and they want to come out and get a result. I think we've just got better and better in the series, apart from a day and a half in Durban.
"I think we've played good enough cricket for the series to be one-all.”
Having seen his side denied by England’s No 11 bat Graham Onions in the first and third Tests, further heartbreak is unthinkable for Arthur, whose men were crushed by an innings and 98 runs at the second clash in Durban.
Deep inside the main stand of Africa’s largest cricket arena – the “Bull Ring” holds 34,000, more than any English Test ground – Johannesburg-born Arthur said: "The gamble will be in the style of cricket we play. It will have to be a little bit more positive, which is a good thing.
"I thought we attacked England very well at Newlands in the New Year Test. We attacked at exactly the right times, and we're more battle-hardened now.”
Of course gambling in cricket is not just about style. It’s about just how much grass your willing to leave on the wicket. This one might just look like a jungle with groundsman Chris Scott told to go easy on the mower when he tends strip No5 for the biggest game of the summer here.
Arthur, a shock choice when he was appointed South Africa coach in 2005, grins: “It’s no secret I’ve had a word with the groundsman. You can take grass off but you can’t put the grass back on.
"We'll just have to see what the weather conditions are going to be for the five days."
A grassy strip will favour the seamers and nullify the impact of the current top wicket-taker in the series, Graeme Swann, who has racked up 19 wickets with furious finger spin.
England will keep faith with Swann and though Ryan Sidebottom was the subject of much scrutiny in nets yesterday, they are likely to stay unchanged for four Tests for the first time since 1884.
Arthur – a successful but unspectacular batsman in his day with the less glamorous provinces here - has no choice but to ring the changes. With seamer Friedel De Wet suffering long-term injury to his back, Arthur must turn to Wayne Parnell for this one, resisting the temptation to return to Makhaya Ntini, the black veteran of 101 caps who would the political choice.
Parnell will make his Test debut having only played in one-dayers but Arthur says this is the first time he’ll have a full fit attack: "Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis didn’t bowl in Centurion and they weren’t quite fit in Durban, and in Cape Town, Friedel was injured in his fifth over
“ We'll have a look at the pitch on Wednesday afternoon. I don't like going in without a spinner, and I think Harry (Paul Harris) has done a tremendous job for us."
Arthur, an outspoken coach who will always come under pressure from the powers-that-be when his side slips up, accepts: “There's always pressure in international sport. We've got to remain confident, and our captain Graeme Smith and I have got to make sure that the players are not getting any negative vibes from our body language.
"I can’t deny our dressing room was a very disappointed place after the Test match in Cape Town, but the positives that we took out of it far outweighed the negatives.
"Even though we drew the game, I felt that we strung together really good pieces of play over those five days.”