Both the first South Africa-India first test at the Centurion and the Australia-England third test at the WACA are scheduled on the same days, with RSA-Ind starting 6 hours after the Ashes. A lot of the 'what to expect stuff' has already been discussed by followers filling up the time in between the cricket, on Twitter or elsewhere, so I'll try to avoid the obvious stuff. Having said that, don't scratch your eyes out if Billy the Worm correspondent Captain Obvious makes an appearance.
I'll start with the more important series, and it isn't between a couple of islands (okay, England isn't an island, but since they can pick players from other parts of the UK, and since the UK is an island, I'd go with it).
South Africa vs India
Captain Obvious says: Both sides will want to prove that they're the big daddy of world cricket. India has a poor record in South Africa, mostly batting-wise, and they will want to correct this. South Africa doesn't want to lose at home.
Going in India's favour is the fact that all the top-order batsmen are in great form (except Raina), so this is possibly their best chance of winning a series in South Africa.
Going against India is their bowling. On the last South African tour, Sreesanth was the highest wicket taker, but the other pacers didn't quite step up, and the third seamer's spot was alternatively held by VRV Singh and Munaf Patel. Things were looking up, going by some strong spells by Ishant and Sreesanth against New Zealand, but now Zaheer is struggling with his hamstring and Sreesanth has hurt himself playing footie.
The backup seamers are Jaidev Unadkat (8 first class matches) and Umesh Yadav (17 first class matches and 3 ODIs). Unadkat looks a good bowler and Yadav can work up 140k, but neither are ready for this by a longshot. And playing two spinners was a possible solution in the past with Kumble around, but Ojha's unpenetrative (though steady) bowling is likely to suit the South African batsman more. I won't say anything about Harbhajan, but Captain Obvious may have a detailed analysis ready.
Captain Obvious says: He sucks.
South Africa are not completely without problems, either. The middle order is solid but susceptible to quality spin, Alviro Peterson is still new to Test cricket and Ashwell Prince continues to be at the end of a very long rope. Dale Steyn is the main threat as usual, and Morne Morkel seems to have forged an effective partnership with him. Morkel is dangerous when in rhythm, but there are situations (the kind Sehwag creates) in which rhythm evades him more than it evades *insert tween singer's name*. The third seamer's spot is still up for grabs, and Ryan McLaren/Lonwabo Tsotsobe are the current contenders. Now to our correspondent for the word on Paul Harris-
Captain Obvious says: He's a left-arm Hauritz.
Watch out for: Sachin. He failed to fill his boots against New Zealand, so he's due a big score, and his 50th Test ton is like an itchy cat: waiting to be grabbed.
Australia vs England
I had way too much material on RSA-Ind, so this will be brief.
Broad is out, Tremlett is niggly, so Bresnan or Shahzad will play. I'd pick Bresnan, if only because he has better control from what I've seen of him. And he can bat, so he would fill Broad's gap (in the batting order, that is).
For Australia: Katich is out, Hughes is in. North is out, and they're only replacement batsman is Steve Smith, so I expect him to fulfill spinning duties too. Four pacers: Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Hilfenhaus.
If it's a pacy WACA wicket, one (yes, the Queen), could expect a result. But my inside voice tells me that it will be a nailbiting draw. Then again, my inside voice is Robin Williams, so it's as crazy as a kreshfuflink.
That's all for my preview, my thanks to Captain Obvious for participating.