First they had to battle the Poms off their nr.1 ranking in England & in a couple of days’ time, they have to defend that nr. 1 ranking against Ozzies in Australia. It just doesn’t get any easier for the South African Test team does it? They have the team to do it, of that I have no doubt but not so long ago playing Australia in Australia was one of test cricket’s most daunting tasks & by the looks of the Ozzies last 2 series’ there, it can be again. So with a few days to go, I decided to take a closer look at the 2 teams, how they compare to each other, what team got the upper hand and where etc. And this is what I came up with:
Whenever I read about Clarke’s captaincy, the words attacking & innovative are regularly mentioned & to a certain degree that is true but (with a bit of tongue in the cheek) what former Ozzie captain do you know wasn’t like that?? Clarke no doubt has the potential to become a great captain & it seems that the added responsibility has also helped his batting. He will definitely be tested in this series & so will his ‘attacking’ mentality because there are going to be lotsa times when he’ll have to be conservative against a formidable opponent.
Many cricket experts feel that Biff is a bit too conservative when captaining his side & sometimes the SA captain gives them a legitimate reason to feel that way but I’m not so sure. Yes, I do feel that there were times when he should’ve declared earlier than he did in a couple of matches but when I look at his approach when he’s batting I don’t see any of that conservativeness he’s been labelled as. He always to try to make his presence felt, always try to attack & dominate the bowler. So why wouldn’t he do that when he’s on the field then? He will always have his critics (hell, I’m one of them from time to time) but he’s worst critic cannot deny that there are very few captains in the test arena that can match Smith’s leadership & captaincy at the moment.
The Top order:
I’m sorry to ask this Ozzy fans but is your opening batsmen combination settled yet coz I’m not so sure. We all know the too-quickly-labelled-great Phil Hughes is out & Watson moved down a spot to 3 in your last test series against the Windies where he averaged 32 odd. The openers of Cowan & Warner didn’t fare any better with the bat with averages of 25 & 28 respectively. Throw in a Ponting that’s far from the player once feared in the cricket world & surely this should be an area where the South African bowling attack should be licking their lips for.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; we’re still talking about Watto, Warner & Punter here, 3 batsmen that can be your worst nightmare on their day.
On the other hand Darren, we have a South African top order that’s settled & spearheaded by run scoring freak, Hashim Amla. Smith always makes sure he provides some noteworthy performances against the Ozzies & I don’t think this time will be any different. And for those guys that’s still not convinced that Petersen is a capable opener on this level, a 42 average is very good. It just looks a bit bleh when it’s put around his top order partners that average almost 50.
The Middle order:
The 2 Michaels Clarke & Hussey will probably head the middle order of the Ozzies with Wade or Haddin at 7 & I see this as a bit of a soft spot that SA can target. (Wow, just had a flashback where someone like Gilchrist was batting at 7 for the Ozzies. At 7!!) I read earlier in the week that Mr. Cricket doesn’t have that great of a record against the Proteas so long may it continue. According to the test rankings, Clarke is Australia’s best batsman as he’s shown that in the last series against us, so getting him out asap should be top priority.
The Proteas middle order is led by the already legendary Kallis & the Ozzies would like to see his way back to the pavilion very early in his innings. This could be his last tour in Oz & I’m sure he would want to go out with a bang. Maybe another double ton ey JK? But when Kallis goes (or we lose our 3rd wicket) AB de Villiers will come out to bat, another world class player in his own right. AB’s campaign in England was a bit frustrating for his fans & I’m sure for him too as he kept on getting starts but never converted them into big scores.
I don’t believe that keeping wicket has influenced his batting in a negative way & I think it will show in Oz. One guy that needs a big tour I think is Rudolph. JP had a lovely tour in England & Faf is a potential candidate for the 6th spot so Rudolph will know that his.. rare is on the line & he’s not getting any younger either. JP & Faf also offer a little bit of spin which will definitely help their cases. Speaking of JP, it was in Aus where he made a name for himself in the test arena & his play in England has shown that maybe he’s come full circle as a batsman after a couple of disappointing seasons.
If you like pace, if you like to see ball whistling past the batsman’s ear, stumps flying & if you like the death-wish stare only a fast bowler can give then you’re in for a treat!! Not that these guys will need any help but Australian pitches tend to bounce & assist with pace which will make the battle between bat & ball even more intriguing. Even though Australia has more options in the pace department, they will still heavily rely on ‘old heads’ Siddle, Hilfenhaus & Harris to take the pressure off exciting youngters Starc & Cummins.
I’ve read somewhere that Cummins might not play in this series but I can’t wait to see how we’re going to handle Starc.
While the Ozzies will keep us guessing with who they’re going to play, they know that chances are very good that they’ll face a bowling trio some are already calling South Africa’s greatest. It was against Australia that Philander made the cricket world sit up & take notice so he’ll be raring to have another go at them. Morkel will certainly love the bounce he’ll be able to generate on the ozzy pitches and Steyn, well I think we all know we’ll see pace, swing & wickets from world’s nr. 1. But it’s not just the pacers that will play an integral part in the outcome of the test matches: Spin bowling will also have a say in this series.
There was this leggy that loved bowling at the Gabba & he was pretty damn good at. Uhm what’s his name again?? I’m sure it will come to me… Anyways many pundits have called on Tahir to start repaying the faith selectors have shown in him by delivering match winning performances like that other guy. Ofcoz I would love to see that too but Tahir actually hasn’t been that bad & he is getting better. Maybe it will happen Australia for him? Australian’s offy Nathan Lyon actually took the most wickets for his side in their last test series so they will definitely be looking at him to target the lefties like Biff, JP & Rudolph.
Mentality & Home advantage:
The Ozzies have always been a mentally tough side & they’re the masters of getting into their opponent heads ‘ with by use of chirps & breaking their concentration but South Africa has shown against England that not only can they handle the big moments of a match, they can grab it by scruff of the neck and ride it. The Proteas has also shown that playing away doesn’t bother them too much but playing the baggy greens in Australia is a whole nother beast on its own.
I honestly can’t pick a favourite coming into this test series. South Africa will come in with a lot of confidence after their triumph in England & Australia is on a bit of a roll with back to back series victories. I do think however that the winner of the 1st test will definitely have their tails up for the rest of the series so we can expect a real humdinger at the Gabba.
And after writing this blog, I’ve done what I’ve promised myself not to do: Get excited!! Coz now I have to wait days to watch these 2 rivals have a go at each other. I remember during the last series in Australia where Morne Morkel gave Ponting such a nasty bouncer that the batsman had to gather himself while sitting on the ground. An inexperienced Morkel was well on in his way to check if he was okay only to be screamed upon & chased back to his run up by Biff, Bouch & even Kallis. I got goosebumps when I saw that & I know there are going to be more moments like that in the next couple weeks. It’s going to be a classic folks!! I for one can’t wait & I Know I’m not the only one.
Hopefully this could happen again..