Australia will look to home comforts against South Africa after being hammered in a five-match ODI series in recent weeks. After all, they have not lost a Test match at home since 2012 – which was against the Proteas. With numerous fast bowlers on display and a couple of world-class batsmen to boot, it promises to be another cracker of a series between two of cricket’s powerhouses.
Australia have endured a testing year in which they have fallen to whitewashes in all three formats. A 3-0 defeat to India in a t20 series, a 5-0 ODI hammering in South Africa, and a 3-0 annihilation at the hands of the Sri Lankans has given the Aussies the unfortunate accolade. However, it has not been all doom and gloom as ODI series wins against Sri Lanka and India, along with a tri-series victory in the West Indies have given reasons for optimism.
Attention now turns to the Test arena as South Africa will look to continue a testing year for Australia. Defeats for any team results in pressure for a captain and it is no different for Steve Smith. The whitewash defeat to the Sri Lankans signalled Smith’s first Test series defeat as captain and his miserable tour came to an end when he returned home mid-way through the ODI series to rest up for the South Africa series.
Now, Steve Waugh believes the upcoming Australian summer will make or break Smith’s captaincy. “Smith will be having a good look at himself, his captaincy style, which players he wants in the team. These six Tests in Australia could well define his captaincy going forward,” Waugh said. Smith will be buoyed by the fact that his side have not lost a home Test since November 2012, winning an impressive fourteen out of twenty-one.
South Africa have had a relatively quiet year in which they have only played two home Test matches in an out-of-season series against New Zealand in August which they won 1-0. They have fond memories of their recent trips down under as they enjoyed Test series wins in 2008-09 and 2012-13. At the forefront of the heroics in 2012 was Francois du Plessis who valiantly saved the second Test in his debut match as he made a mammoth 376-ball 110*.
Du Plessis, who is standing in as captain for the injured AB de Villiers, believes his side can continue their fine record in Australia. “Confidence definitely plays a role. The most important thing for me is that the players are in form. No matter what the format, if you are in form you feel confident and this is something amazing to take over to Australia,” du Plessis said.
Both sides are set to pack their side with fast bowlers, South Africa especially. Head coach Russell Domingo has already hinted at the possibility of playing a four-man seam attack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel – with JP Duminy offering part-time spin if needed. It will be a rarity for South African fans to see all four pacemen in the same team as Steyn and Philander have endured massively frustrating injuries; with Morkel the latest to spend time on the sidelines.
Kagiso Rabada has been the only mainstay in the last year but he has risen to the challenge excellently for such a young player. However, that will not stop the Aussies from targeting the youngster. It is a common Australian tactic to target one specific bowler and Peter Siddle believes this series will be no different. “There will be a fair bit of pressure on him I think, coming out to Australia and all the hype around the series and that type of thing. I don’t reckon he is a danger man. I reckon he’s the man we can sort of target,” Siddle said.
Quinton De Kock looks set to open the batting with Dean Elgar after impressing against New Zealand. Hashim Amla is South Africa’s only world-class Test batsman at three; with JP Duminy, Du Plessis, Temba Bavuma and Stiaan Van Zyl making up the middle order.
Australia will be delighted to welcome back their star seamers in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood after their experiment in South Africa of selecting two uncapped seamers failed. Explosive opener David Warner, captain Steve Smith, and wicket-keeper Peter Nevill are automatic picks; however, Mark Taylor believes the remaining six places are up for grabs. Joe Burns, Shaun Marsh, Adam Voges, Mitch Marsh and Nathan Lyon are likely to have another chance to prove themselves – with Peter Siddle playing as the third seamer. ‘’I don’t think there’s anyone else who’s absolutely penned in at the moment. They’ve got to prove their selection, that’s the way I would be looking at it if I was a selector,’’ Taylor said.
This year’s curtain raiser to the Australian season will not be held in Brisbane as it usually is; but instead at the high-scoring Perth. Both teams will then travel to Hobart, before a mouth-watering day/night clash in Adelaide. After the very first day/night Test match was a huge success, the third match (and second in Adelaide), should be no different. The occasion could be increased even more so by the return of AB de Villiers, who is hoping to be fit enough for the final match of the series. AB or not, the clash of these two cricketing titans promises to prove why the Test arena is still the pinnacle of the sport.