It’s 1-1 going into the 3rd Test at Cape Town with all to play for between South Africa and Australia. There was a lot of hype in the build-up to this much awaited series, and the contests have lived up to the expectations. The series so far has been a see-saw battle with Australia being the dominant side in the 1st Test at Centurion only for South Africa to come roaring back and level the series with an equally dominant performance in the 2nd Test at Port Elizabeth.
Australia won the 1st Test by a whopping margin of 281 runs courtesy of Mitchell Johnson, who carried on his sparkling form from the Ashes by taking 12 wickets in the match. All of a sudden, questions were beginning to be raised about South Africa’s ability and whether they have the wherewithal to provide a strong riposte. It was felt that they might crumble rapidly under the pressure exerted by Australia, just like England did before them, but they showed why they are ranked the no.1 Test side in the world with their performance in the 2nd Test.
South Africa won the 2nd Test by a comprehensive margin of 231 runs, with Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn coming to the fore. They have been the fulcrum of the South African Test side for the last few years and stood up to be counted once again by putting up valuable performances when needed.
Australia have a few quandaries regarding selection for the 3rd Test match. Shane Watson looks like he is fully fit once again and should make a return to the side. Either Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh will have to make way for Watson, but it is going to be a difficult decision with both having done well in the 1st Test and disappointed in the 2nd. Considering that Doolan was the first in line for a spot in the playing XI at the start of the tour, I would expect him to retain his place at no.3 with Watson slotting in at no.4. There have been question marks about Ryan Harris’ place in the XI, too. He had a fantastic Ashes series in Australia but has looked slightly off-colour in this series, managing a paltry 3 wickets at a costly average of 74. He has had a long summer after playing 7 Tests within a short space of time and is probably starting to bear the brunt of the hectic schedule.
The good news for Harris is that once the 3rd Test is completed, he has an extended break with no Tests scheduled in the near future. He has been a brilliant bowler for Australia and deserves to retain his place in the side for the 3rd Test taking cognizance of his overall Test record.
The South Africans, on the other hand, appear devoid of any problems at the moment after their impressive showing in the 2nd Test. They had to show a lot of mental strength and character to square the series at Port Elizabeth, after being blown away by the pace of Mitchell Johnson in the 1st Test, and did so emphatically.
The most pleasing aspect of the Port Elizabeth performance is Dale Steyn’s bowling in the 2nd innings. They would have been slightly concerned about the fact that he didn’t have much of an impact in the series until then. He was by no means poor prior to that innings but did look a trifle off-rhythm. He didn’t do a lot of bowling prior to the start of the series and hence probably found it difficult to get going from the start. But those concerns have been laid to rest with his majestic spell on the 4th day of the 2nd Test. His pace was back to the high 140s once again and got quite a lot of late movement, as well.
SA would have to make one forced change to the playing XI, as Wayne Parnell is out of the 3rd Test due to a groin strain. Kyle Abbott has been called up to the squad as a replacement for Parnell and would consider himself unfortunate if he misses out on selection after producing figures of 7/29 in his only Test match against Pakistan last year. Other than that, Alviro Petersen has recovered from his viral infection that made him miss the 2nd Test and should return to the opening spot. Dean Elgar, who did really well in the last Test match at the top of the order, might have to drop down to no.6 to accommodate Petersen and in the process, will oust Quinton de Kock from the side.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at Cape Town might be similar to the one in the 2nd Test if Graeme Smith and South Africa had their way. The Proteas batsmen, who seemed unable to cope with the pace and bounce of Mitchell Johnson on a lively Centurion pitch in the 1st Test, looked much happier with the slow nature of the Port Elizabeth wicket.
South Africa (possible): Graeme Smith (c), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (wk), Dean Elgar, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel
Australia (possible): David Warner, Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon
In the Spotlight
South Africa: Graeme Smith has had scores of 10, 4, 9 and 14 in the 4 innings so far and will be looking to make amends. He normally leads from the front by making big scores at the top of the order and would be disappointed with his performances till now. With all to play for, I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes up with a crucial knock in the final Test, as he so often has done in the past.
Australia: Michael Clarke had a magnificent 2012 and 2013 but is suffering from a bit of a form slump at the moment. He hasn’t crossed 25 in the last 11 innings and would be eager to put an end to that dubious streak with a meaningful contribution in the decider. His poor form has been largely overlooked because of the overwhelming success the team has enjoyed in recent months; but, after losing the 2nd Test to a rampant South Africa, he knows that his team needs a big knock from him to get back on track.