So this is it. The highlight of the summer, when hopefully the rain that has blighted much of what has gone before will finally relent to allow England and South Africa to battle it out for the right to be regarded as the world's best Test team.
They won't be the main sporting show in town, of course. The series starts at The Oval because Lord's has been taken over by the Olympic archers, and the second Test at Headingley comes on the middle weekend of the Games. Then it will be over far too quickly, thanks to the depressing and surely misguided decision to play only a three-Test series.
But people have been moaning about that for months, and there's nothing to be done about it now. With the South Africans due to begin the first of only two warm-up matches against Somerset at Taunton on Sunday – a policy that smacks of complacency, and must surely leave England with a golden opportunity to take a 1-0 lead at The Oval – it's time to relish the prospect of what's ahead.
The scale of the challenge facing England perhaps explains why Andy Flower, Andrew Strauss and the rest of the coaches and players seem to have had an eye on the medium-term all summer. The decisions to rest Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad from the third Test against West Indies at Edgbaston, and to make further rotations during the various limited-overs fixtures that have passed by inconsequentially over the past few weeks, will lose some of their controversy if England's hungry new-ball pair reduce South Africa to 50 for six on the first morning in Kennington.
You only have to read any of the interviews that have appeared with Graeme Smith or Gary Kirsten over the past few months to realise how focused the South Africans are on this series. They may have taken a chance by arranging so little cricket before the first Test – the opening game at Somerset is one of those unsatisfactory two-day affairs, and the other against Kent in Canterbury lasts only three – but they have travelled from Johannesburg to London via a mountain retreat in Switzerland, spending five days with the adventurer Mike Horn.
"You need to want to stick it out when times are tough," Smith has said in reference to his two previous tours of England as captain, in 2003 and 2008. Presumably the unlikely thought of Imran Tahir and Vernon Philander glacier-walking and mountain-biking is designed to imbue that toughness into the tourists.
On paper, they look formidable. Philander's astonishing early impact in Test cricket has turned the already potent new-ball pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel into a three-pronged attack, and Tahir should provide an extra dimension. One memory of that 2008 series is of Geoff Boycott suggesting that various female members of his family could play Paul Harris, South Africa's main spinner, with various rhubarb-like fruits or vegetables (I've discovered in the extensive research required for this piece that rhubarb can be described as either).
Anyone who has seen Tahir bowling in county cricket for either Warwickshire and especially Hampshire over the last few years will be aware that he should command much more respect than that, even from Sir Geoffrey.
But having said all that, England can be pretty formidable themselves, with the only area of uncertainty surrounding that problem No6 position. Jonny Bairstow? Ravi Bopara? Eoin Morgan? That debate will start in earnest once the Australia one-day series ends at Old Trafford next Tuesday. The much sharper focus on it than before Bairstow's selection to face West Indies will confirm that the business end of the summer has arrived.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Steve Hodgson