South Africa and Australia square up for a much awaited 4 test series in March-April 2018 with the 1st Test starting at Durban on 1st March. Australia had characteristically announced their Test Squad pretty early with Skipper Steve Smith and Vice-captain David Warner leading a strong and well balanced side. South Africa have also announced their team as well.
Here is my preview of the series where I look at the relative strengths and weaknesses from the aspects of batting, bowling, fielding and wicketkeeping.
Australian batting looks good. Steve Smith is enjoying a purple patch for the last 4 years with 22 tons in his last 83 innings. In the recent 4 Nil win versus England, Smith scored 687 runs @137.4. More importantly he played as per the demands of the situation. In a stressful situation at Brisbane he scored his slowest Test hundred, and at the WACA he scored his fastest test ton in just 138 balls on the way to his highest test score of 239. Smith followed this up with yet another ton at Melbourne. 3 test tons in a series was awesome , and he had also done the same feat in the tough away series to India. The Australians will be hoping South Africa is a happy hunting ground as well for their skipper.
Australia would however look forward to other top order batsmen David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb to contribute and help Smith. Bancroft had a stunning Ashes debut in which he scored an unbeaten 82 to partner Warner who scored 87 not out for a 187 run opening stand and a 10 wicket win. Thereafter he did not do well, but he has the backing of Steve Smith and Justin Langer and should feature as opener versus the South Africans.
Faf du Plessiss is nursing a finger injury as is middle order batsman Temba Bavuma. However both are in the squad. Du Plessis is one of their best players against Australia ever since he announced his arrival at the world stage with a match saving Test hundred on debut and South Africa would want him to be fit.
South Africa will also hope AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla rise to the occasion. Their opening pair of Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram will play a crucial role if South Africa hope to do well. In the recent 3 Test series South Africa played 5 batsmen and 5 bowlers and if they continue the trend then they may hand a debut to young 20 year old batting allrounder Wiaan Mulder who has impressed Otis Gibson.
In the recent 4 Nil win versus England Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood all bowled with venom and pace and consistently exceeded 145 kmph. Smith will hope they maintain their fiery attitude. Importantly Cummins is an excellent lower order batsman too who averaged 40 versus England. He can potentially be a leading all rounder for Australia in future.
The spinning options for Australia are off-spinner Nathan Lyon and left arm spinner Jon Holland. Both are just 30 and yet are Australia’s oldest bowlers. This shows how young a side it is. While Holland is unlikely to play, Lyon is a pivot and is expected to play an important role in the series.
South Africa’s pace attack is even more potent even though Dale Steyn has been ruled out of 1st 2 Tests due to injury. However Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada will all be looking forward to the series and contributing majorly.
These 4 played against India and it was the 1st time since Joel Garner, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Colin Croft that any team played a 4 man pace attack with all 4 bowlers taking more than 100 test wickets each. Steyn will be replaced in the quartet by Lungi Ngidi. The 21 year quick had immediately impressed with his 6-39 against India in which he touched the 150 km mark and also got disconcerting pace and bounce. These 4 bowlers will test Australia.
Possibly South Africa may also play 3 of the 4 quicks and play the allrounder Mulder and the spinner Keshav Maharaj who is a competent batsman as well. This will rotate the fast bowlers and keep them fresh. Playing Mulder and Maharaj will strengthen the batting as a mark of respect to the Aussie attack without compromising the bowling as well. Maharaj incidentally is the only spinner in the history of Test cricket who debuted at Perth and he was instrumental in picking up 3 wickets resulting in an Aussie collapse. This will definitely encourage SA to play Maharaj at home against Smith’s boys.
Both sides are known for their electrifying fielding. Uncharacteristically South Africa had too many fielding errors in the recent series versus India and their coach Otis Gibson accepted that this may have been an important factor for the ODI and T20 series loss. South Africa would hope to improve on this aspect.
The Australian selectors pulled a rabbit out of the hat when they played Tim Paine versus the Englishmen and he responded well. He will play all the Tests for the Aussies. South Africa have a dilemma. Should they play the out of form Quentin De Kock who ironically has an excellent record against Australia ) Or should they play the inform Heinrich Klaasen, fresh from his matchwinning exploits against the Indians in an ODI and a T20 where he was like a breath of fresh air for the South Africans who were otherwise outplayed by the Indians in these two formats.
Looking forward to a great series and some super cricket from both the teams.
The author Ritesh Misra is an IRS Officer based in Mumbai. Views expressed are personal.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect the views of pragativadi.com. The pragativadi.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.