Home > Cricket News, The Final Word > The Summer of Cricket – Part Two South Africa

The Summer of Cricket – Part Two South Africa

As the home summer season edges closer, we have a bumped Test series between South Africa and Australia, unfortunately limited to just two Tests due to scheduling, but enthralling all the same. After Australia rose one spot in the Test rankings with a series victory over Sri Lanka, they face an even tougher challenge against the best pace attack in the world. How will they go? Will Phil Hughes again dominate the South Africans? Will Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn rip through the Australian top order like they have done with so many other nations? Will Patrick Cummins become the yougest Australian Test debutant since Craig McDermott?

I’m going to take the same approach as the Sri Lanka preview, although with a bit more knowledge of the South African side, I can talk a bit more in depth about the hosts. The Twenty20 series ended in a 1-1 tie, as so many seem to do these days, while the Australians took out the one-day series after some solid all round cricket in games one and three. Coming into the Test series though, the Aussies face a South African A team with the likes of JP Duminy, Wayne Parnell and Robin Petersen, while Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe all showed good form in the limited overs games. With the new Chairman of Selectors John Inverarity now in charge, this series represents the final one under the old guard led by Andrew Hildich. While his reputation has been significantly sallied by the inconsistent selections of spin bowlers, and the sacking of Simon Katich, a win here would prove that Australian cricket isn’t as bad off as people may think.

Australia – The top order

An area of some conjecture still, but the Australian top order is likely to be the most settled part of the team heading into the first Test in Cape Town. Shane Watson (although hampered by hamstring and back problems recently) will partner Phil Hughes at the top, with all signs saying Shaun Marsh will retain the number three spot, pushing Ricky Ponting down to number four again. Whilst Usman Khawaja has been picked, he will be the batsman to miss out after some indifferent form in Sri Lanka. Overall the form of each of the top four has been promising, with Hughes finishing the Sri Lankan tour with a hundred, before fighting through tough conditions for 96 in a Ryobi Cup game for NSW. In that game, Khawaja opened with Hughes, scoring 116, but unless Marsh succumbs to a shoulder injury which kept him out of part of the one-day series, he will miss out. Ricky Ponting showed some good touches in the opening one-dayer, with a quality 67 as a makeshift opener, winning the man of the match. Despite some soft dismissals since, he is still looking more like the Ponting of old. The only doubts in the top order, surprisingly, lie with Watson. He has scored just one half century in all forms of the game since the beginning of the Sri Lankan tour, and with his body giving up on him again, looks to be falling under the weight of the all-rounder tag. His quality with the bat is undeniable, but a lean series here could see the selectors opt to shift Marsh to open, and push Watson back down the order.

Middle Order

There are three certain selections in the middle order for the first Test, and really the whole summer. With only Khawaja touring as an extra batsman, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin (the only keeper on tour) will fill the five, six and seven spots respectively. While there is a chance Watson will drop down to six if the selectors want to lighten his load, it is unlikely in this series, and it would only see Clarke and Hussey shift up a place. With viable (or at least ones they are willing to select) middle order options in domestic cricket at an all time low, this part of the side shouldn’t change too much, barring injury, for the next 12 months.

Bowling attack

Again the biggest mystery in the Australian line-up is the bowling attack. There were some impressive signs from new-comers Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon in the Sri Lankan series, but the overall performance probably made selection for this series harder than before. Ryan Harris returns to the squad after sitting out the final Test as an injury precaution, but should come straight back into the eleven. Who it is at the expense of is the million dollar question. Add to that the push for Patrick Cummins to play, and the situation just became even more confusing. The only other certainty besides Harris, it seems, is Mitchell Johnson, who we all hope will re-find his mojo at the place it was first really discovered. (If you ever have any doubts about this guy, I suggest you check out the following YouTube clip – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9hcZWVb7PI) Of the rest of the quick bowlers, Trent Copeland looks to be a victim of Johnson’s success in South Africa last time, with the selectors probably looking for an all-out pace attack in quick pitches, meaning Copeland’s slower, but just as effective medium-fast, bowling will likely to get the chop. While I understand the thinking behind it, I believe Copeland could be a valuable asset to the side, particularly if Watson’s bowling load is heavily reduced to save from injury. Alas, there is also his fellow Sri Lankan debutante Nathan Lyon to worry about. Lyon had a solid, if not spectacular, debut series, including a five wicket haul in the first innings of the first Test, but probably isn’t the saviour that the selectors are aching for. I get the feeling that he will also lose his spot, with a four-pronged pace attack to take on South Africa. That would mean that Cummins would come in, as would Peter Siddle, who can be relied upon for shorter, fiery spells on bouncy pitches. This would leave the Aussies without a recognised spinner, but they do have a handy left-hander  in the batting line-up (Oh, wait, no they don’t, the dropped Katich!). Then again, Cummins didn’t play in the tour match, and Siddle, Johnson and Copeland all had their moments in the game. In all, it is an interesting situation with the bowling attack, and while I don’t expect this to happen, I’d like to see Johnson, Lyon, Copeland and Harris again take the field, which is a much more balanced attack than the one being mooted in the press. They have also taken Beer, but he will (hopefully) be enjoying the sights of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Potchefstroom rather than playing.

Likely Team

1. Shane Watson

2. Phil Hughes

3. Shaun Marsh

4. Ricky Ponting

5. Michael Clarke (c)

6. Michael Hussey

7. Brad Haddin

8. Mitchell Johnson

9. Ryan Harris

10. Peter Siddle

11. Nathan Lyon

South Africa

While I can’t go into the depth I did with Australia, the South African side is much more well known to the Australians than the Sri Lankans. Much like the Aussies, they have named a 14 man squad for the first Test, although two of those players (JP Duminy and Vernon Philander) are also playing in the South Africa A tour game against the Australians this week. Although their final line-up is as of time of writing unknown, it is expected that Graeme Smith, who is returning from injury as captain, will open up with the newly recalled Jacques Rudolph. Whilst experienced, Rudolph hasn’t had the best of runs against the Australians, with just one hundred and no fifties at an average of 26 against the Australians in six Tests. Smith has an enviable record against the Australians, and along with Mickey Arthur masterminded their 2-1 series victory in Australia, the first home series loss in over 15 years for the Aussies, in 2008/09. Smith will however, along with plenty of the South African top order, have nightmares about Mitchell Johnson from the 2009 series in South Africa. In the next three positions, the South Africans possess one of the world’s best top/middle orders. Hashim Amla is at three, Jacques Kallis at four and AB de Villiers at five, and while Ashwell Prince at six isn’t in the same class, he still has two hundreds and a fifty against the Australians in ten Tests. Mark Boucher will come in at seven, and while very hit and miss, can be extremely destructive if a stable base has been established higher in the order.

An so we come to the bowlers. Just shading the English for the best attack in the world are the South Africans, who are particularly lethal on home soil. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel lead the attack, with Lonwabe Tsotsobe in tow, and Paul Harris can hold an end up and build pressure as well. Steyn’s 34 wickets at 27 may not sound overly impressive against the Australians, but there is no doubt that his pace, bounce and late swing will provide a big challenge to Phil Hughes, while Morkel’s 15 wickets at 45 against the tourists also doesn’t show the full story. Both of them will be dangerous with the new ball, challenging Phil Hughes on the back foot, and Shane Watson with anything that is on the stumps. Tsotsobe hasn’t played against the Aussies yet, but he did perform admirably in the limited overs games, and could be a danger with movement off the pitch and some swing. They have also named leg-spinner Imran Tahir in the squad, and he could get a run in place of Harris. Tahir would provide a dangerous wrist spin option, as well as the threat of the unknown to the Australians.

Likely Team

1. Graeme Smith (c)

2. Jaques Rudolph

3. Hashim Amla

4. Jacques Kallis

5. AB de Villiers

6. Ashwell Prince

7. Mark Boucher

8. Dale Steyn

9. Morne Morkel

10. Imran Tahir

11. Lonwabo Tsotsobe

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  1. November 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

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