After a remarkable performance against England, Australia are once again on the rise. A high-quality batting performance and backed by some fearsome bowling from Mitchell Johnson helped Australia regain the Ashes. They also bagged the Common Wealth Bank series comfortably and are riding on a wave of confidence for the challenging series in South Africa.
The surfaces in South Africa may be similar to Australia’s type of wickets. Apart from Centurion where the first test will be played, other surfaces would certainly aid the pacers. It’s a new crop of players who will travel to South Africa for three Test series and three Twenty20 matches. They haven’t had adequate exposure in South Africa, and it will be interesting to see their performance in South Africa. Even Michael Clarke knows that some of the players are new and therefore he needs to lead from the front.
The squad that has been selected for the Test series would face a stern test on South Africa pitches. Though Australia are familiar with pace and bounce, the Proteas pace attack could pose problems. Even South Africa batsmen found it extremely difficult against quality bowlers – Mohammad Shami of India. Therefore it’s important for Australia the top order clicks in the Test series.
The Super Sport Park at Centurion has been a spectator friendly wicket. The fast bowlers wouldn’t have much assistance, but from day three the surface is expected to turn. The rough patches may help the spinners from day three. So it would be a good batting surface at Centurion. It’s a great opportunity for players like Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and David Warner to get some runs who have been little out of sorts outside Australia.
Shane Watson needs to learn the technique to bat in overseas, or else things could become tough for him. He will play an important role at three. Since the middle order after Clarke, does not have enough firepower to resist Proteas attack, Shane Watson has to make an impact at the top.
It will be interesting to see whether Shaun Marsh will be selected for the first Test. Shaun Marsh had a good Sheffield Shield series in 2012, but was not considered for the Ashes series in England. Being rejected for such a big tour could have disappointed him.
Nevertheless this is a big occasion for Australia. Shaun Marsh has the perfect technique for Test cricket and if he settles down, Proteas could have a tough time. However it’s going to be a testing time for him but a good performance in South Africa could certainly open up his international career again.
It will also be interesting to see the No.6 spot. Steve Smith and Alex Doolan are in contention. Alex Doolan has batted at No.4 for Tasmania in Sheffield Shield series. Since Clarke’s position is at No.4, he may be considered as No.6 batsmen.
Steve Smith did a pretty good job for Australia at No.6, and Doolan is yet to make his international debut. But Doolan may not be preferred for the first Test. If he is selected, and the surface is spinning, Australia would find themselves in a spot of bother with one spinner. Therefore Steve Smith provides extra spinning option and he may be retained as No.6 batsmen.
Steve Smith will also face a stern test. Pace and bounce has been a setback for Smith against quality bowlers. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Veron Philander could pose problems for Steve Smith. If he can overcome the initial part of his innings, it could be a wonderful opportunity for him to make a big score.
Overall, the top order will be holding the key for Australia. A good start is important in this particular series. South Africa is a place where a good start will always put the team in front. David Warner and Chris Rogers have to provide a good start, and if any one of them settles down, they’ll have to play a meaningful innings. Set batsmen has to carry on, otherwise, the middle order will feel the heat.
On the other hand Australia have formidable pace attack. Mitchell Johnson, who had an outstanding Ashes series, would relish bowling in South Africa. Also James Pattinson’s selection makes perfect sense as he can get the extra bit of bounce from the surface. He could prove handy to left-hand batsmen as he can get the ball to move away from them at chest height. That’s where the batsmen might get a faint edge and it can go to slip position.
Ryan Harris, however, is a kind of bowler who can make a huge impact with the new-ball. South Africa is a place where you need pacers to do the damage with old-ball. Ryan Harris can’t be an impact bowler when the ball starts reversing. Nonetheless he has been a good exponent off the new-ball and brings in many variations. Players like Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla will have to be watchful. If he can make some early inroads, Proteas middle order would be tested.
On the whole the bowling attack looks good, but it’s the batting that should click for Australia.