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Preview: South Africa's tour of Australia

South Africa Training Session

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 06: South African training session at The Gabba on November 6, 2012 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Australia vs South Africa. The last time we saw these two teams meet in a criminally short test series, we saw a scoreline of 21-9, we saw one of the finest counter-attacking innings in test cricket from Michael Clarke, we saw Hashim Amla at his graceful best and we saw the arrival of Patrick Cummins and Vernon Philander (Cummins working out Jacques Kallis and Philander’s exceptional control of the cricket ball are among the finest endorsements of test cricket).

Exactly a year after that series, South Africa will begin their first campaign as the number one ranked test side in Brisbane. South Africa need to draw or win the series to retain the rankings, whereas Australia needs to win by any margin to reclaim their number one ranking, hence making them the fourth team to reach the throne in the last two years. All signs point to this being one brilliant contest between two cricketing giants, one that just reached the pinnacle, and the other that fell down a few years back, but has done commendably well to climb its way back up in spite of the numerous disappointments in between.

There are lots of key battles one needs to watch out for in this series, which will go a long way in deciding the contests. This should be a good time to have a look at those:

1) The battle of the pace attacks: South Africa has Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and the uncapped Rory Kleinveldt. Australia has Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood (Injuries to Cummins and Ryan Harris has made their decision easier). On paper, South Africa should run away with this contest. But on current form, the Aussie pace attack are among the best in the world, and playing at home could be a plus for them as well. Though it can be argued that South Africa’s pacers will have the easier task against the brittle Aussie batsmen, one it really isn’t safe to bet against their Aussie counterparts.

2) Jacques Kallis vs Shane Watson: Both these players will double up as the fourth pacer and at number 3/4 batsman for their respective teams. Both these players are in the form of their lives, and need to perform to give their team a better chance of winning. Watson more so. We all know that Watson will never be as good a player as Kallis is, but will he be the better player in this series? Whoever it is, I dare say their team will sneak the trophy. With Watson out of the first test due to yet another injury, Kallis seems to be having the upper-hand already.

3) Australian Batsmen vs Their Form: The Aussies have a brilliant bowling attack, but their batsmen are a bit vulnerable.  And when we put these batsmen against the likes of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers, it’s a no contest. If this was a traditional WWE Survivor Series wrestling match between SA and Australia, SA would win the bout without a single of them being eliminated.

Australia have Warner and Cowan as openers, one who despite a decent record, is suspect to quality bowling, and the other who just can’t seem to convert his starts. They are Australia’s version of Sehwag. The middle order consists of Watson (Quiney), Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and Wade. Looks good on paper, but only Watson and Clarke are safe bets. Quiney though is in great first class form, but will face a huge challenge against Steyn and company. Ponting is in the twilight of his career, Hussey hasn’t looked himself in recent tests and Wade doesn’t yet look test match material. I predict a tough series for the Aussie batsmen against the SA bowling attack. The tail will need to wag almost every time to help them to a reasonable score.

4) AB De Villers – The Batsman vs AB De Villers – The Keeper: Following Mark Boucher’s freak injury and forced retirement, AB de Villiers donned the gloves in the England Series, though they had Thami Tsolekile as the backup. This was done to maintain the balance and extend an already intimidating batting line-up  He did a reasonable job behind the stumps, but it seemed to have affected his batting. He was not at his fluent best during the English summer. He scored just 161 runs in the three tests, with no centuries or half centuries, a big failure for a player of his calibre. So, it will be interesting to see if De Villiers can get that monkey of his back and get back to his belligerent best. If not, South Africa would need to find a young keeper who can bat, for their test side at the earliest. Quinton de Kock anyone?

5) Graeme Smith vs Michael Clarke: The captains. One leading his side since 2003, for 93 tests. The other took over from Ponting in 2011, and has lead his side for 15 tests. Smith is known to be a defensive captain, but since the arrival of Philander and Tahir, that seems to have changed. His bold declaration in the first test in England lays testimonial to that. Clarke has always been the aggressor. He makes bold, calculated moves, which in his short stint have clicked more often than not. His decision to declare the innings in the first test against West Indies, in spite of being in the deficit, comes to mind. Both are also crucial batsmen to their teams. It will be interesting to see who gets one over the other at the end of the series.
So, we surely do have a cracker of a series on our hands. I’d like to put my hand up and predict a 2-0 series win for South Africa. It will be a close contest, but I believe the Aussie batsmen might just spoil the party for their team. Let’s see if there is a surprise or two in store for the viewers.
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