Let the games begin

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THE Aussies have arrived in South Africa for a series that has the entire cricketing world salivating.

After recent events that rocked the International Cricket Coucil, South Africa will be keen to show that they are the very best in Test cricket and should never be excluded.

The reason matches between the two sides are so eagerly anticipated is that home advantage isn’t really an advantage as conditions in both countries are very similar.

Both teams depend on fast bowlers and the fact that South Africa hasn’t picked an outright spinner in their squad tells us volumes on what we should expect.

Momentum will be the major difference and believe me the Aussies are in overdrive after hammering the English in the recently ended Ashes.

In contrast South Africa is a little undercooked going into the series as they haven’t played international cricket in more than a month, even a last minute SOS to neighbours Zimbabwe was not successful.

The last time the Aussies were there, the main difference maker was one Mitchell Johnson. Judging by his performance in the recent Ashes, Johnson is on fire and the Proteas know all about his ability of almost single-handedly winning a series with both bat and ball.

The fact that the quickest wicket in the country — the Wanderers — will not host a Test match tells me the Africans are wary of the Aussie pace attack.

Usually South Africa go for pace to scare the opposition, but this doesn’t work with the Aussies as they are brought up on similar if not quicker wickets.

Worse still they have their own frightening 150km+ bowlers. South Africa on paper has the best bowling attack in the world and On the Crease believes the bowling stakes are very even. The difference will be in the spin department as Nathan Lyon is on top of his game and will be a major factor especially at the slower St Georges Park in Port Elizabeth.

I think the batsman would lose the series for their respective teams. Again South Africa is very strong in this aspect with two of the top ranked ICC Test batsmen in its ranks. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers can win any Test match and score serious runs against any attack. Skipper Graeme Smith has proved over the years that he delivers when his team needs him most.

The biggest miss for the home side will be the recently retired legend Jacques Kallis. So effective was Kallis with both bat and ball it will require two players to replace him, a luxury the Proteas don’t have. Faf Duplesis will bat at four and — as capable a batsman as he is — he does not offer the same torque with the ball as Kallis did.

This means the Proteas will have to pick an all-rounder, likely Wayne Parnell, to bat at seven, where in the past they had the luxury to pick an extra bowler or batsman in that slot.

They should have enough batting to offer stiff resistance to the Aussie attack. Players like J P Duminy have been very successful against the Aussies before.

The Proteas bat is really deep with the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel able to deliver runs when required.
I still believe the batting is Australia’s weak point, a strange thing to say after they recently won an Ashes series 5-0. Skipper Michael Clarke is the only proven world-class batsman in the side.

Clarke himself is aware of this and has been singing the praises of his bowlers while remaining generally quiet about his batters.

On a lot of occasions they were bailed out by the middle and lower order, without any real consistency from the top order.

Shane Watson and Dave Warner can hurt the home side if they get going. They are good for a match winning innings in a series, but lack the consistency required from truly world-class top order players.

Twenty20 skipper George Bailey was left out of the touring party due to his indifferent batting in the Ashes.

Steve Smith was the surprise find of the series together with rejuvenated wicket keeper/batsman Brad Haddin. Given the wicket taking ability of the home side’s new ball attack, the middle order might have to carry the tests for the visitors yet again.

Both sides are equally dynamic on the field and there is nothing that separates them in this discipline.

The first Test gets under way at the Centurion in just under a week. Whichever way it goes there will be interesting Test cricket and a lot of quality fast bowling. Hope the weather will allow the players play.

  •  The strike by the local players is finally over and things appear back to normal. The national coach Andy Waller told SuperSport that the governing body promised that all outstanding dues will be paid by the 10th of this month and many of the players had returned to the nets.

I happened to be with a couple of players who could not hide their excitement when they received the news via WhatsApp.

This is a welcome development as the players need to focus on the T-20 World Cup in Bangladesh next month. We wait to see how much effect the two-month layoff will have on the local first class season.

  • This week’s letter is “H” — helmet — a hard hat worn by batsmen and close-in fielders to protect their heads from the ball.