Ed Hawkins is surprised that South Africa are not favourites to win at home against the Aussies in four Tests with game one starting in Durban on Thursday...
"The ball often seams and swings in Durban so it would be a surprise if we saw big totals even if the wicket is expected to be slow"
South Africa v Australia
Thursday 1 March 07.55
TV: live on Sky Sports
South Africa strong at home
South Africa are the No 2-rated team in the world according to the ICC. They beat the No 1 side, India, at home earlier this year. It was their seventh win in eight series in the last two years.
Not surprisingly, their home record is strong. They have suffered only five defeats in their last 23 at home. England and Australia, in 2015 and 2014 respectively, are rarities in managing a series win there. The only two defeats they have suffered in the last five years.
The hosts should feel confident. But we get the impression they are not. There has been talk that they have asked for slow surfaces to combat Australia's excellent pace attack. But what about their own? Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander is not too shabby.
They should also be able to name a fit top order. Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers and Faf Du Plessis have had rest and recuperation. Quinton De Kock is also ready, although his form with the bat has taken a bit of a dip.
Morkel will play his final series before international retirement. He's still mean and magnificent, coming in at No 9 on the bowling charts. Rabada, by the way, is No 2 in the world with Philander at No 6. See what we mean about not too shabby?
Aussie pace aces raring to go
Australia have gorged on a diet of lily-livered Englishmen. Is that good preparation for this series? Probably. The much-vaunted pace aces - Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins - could go down in history as one of the top trios ever.
But that's if they all stay fit. Starc didn't manage it in the Ashes and it would be remiss of us not to recognise that they do have their injury foibles. A word, too for the excellent Nathan Lyon who will be cheered that slow surfaces could assist his spin.
With the bat Steve Smith should be capable of another run glut. David Warner needs to rediscover his mojo. He could have done with a longer rest following ODI and T20 duty to boot.
Two from Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb are likely to play. And South Africa will be pretty happy about that. The Marsh brothers at Nos 5 and 6 are solid, though.
Tourists favourites for series
Betfair Sportsbook make Australia favourites to win the series at 6/5. As strong as they are, we cannot agree. South Africa should be jollies on their own patch, not least because of the global trend for tourists to suffer. It is true that South Africa have not beaten Australia at home since readmission but they are no 13/8 chances. So we have to get on. Australia are 9/2 to win 2-1, South Africa are 5/1 by the same score.
There have been 10 Tests played at Kingsmead in the last ten years. The first-innings scores read: 263-303-369-328-139-352-343-205-338-334. That is an average of 297. The ball often seams and swings in Durban so it would be a surprise if we saw big totals even if the wicket is expected to be slow. Indeed, there have been only three scores of 400 or more in all innings in the study period. Something to bear in mind for runs bets.
South Africa are [2.58], Australia [2.38] and the draw is [5.0]. As we have said, we think the hosts should be the shorter of the two on the series markets so we feel the same about the match odds.
The toss is key, though. Six from the last ten have been won by the team batting first so we would not advise betting blind. Last time out in Durban the weather spoiled a potentially thrilling contest against New Zealand.
The draw price does interest us, despite sunny skies. It's this talk of slow pitches. If the groundsman has got it wrong and it is turgid then we could see batsmen drop anchor. This, of course, would be completely against the wicket's characteristics. The confusion does not give us confidence.
AB De Villiers likes Kingsmead. He is third on the all-time runs lists there, scoring 747 in 18 with one century and six fifties. He is [4.1] for top first-innings runs for SA. His greatest threat is Dean Elgar in terms of ground form. He is [4.7] and boasts 177 runs in three innings. Amla and Du Plessis both average fewer than 21 there.
Does Smith have much to beat for top Australia bat? He is copping about 28 per cent of the time, which makes him a [3.5] shot. Unfortunately only [3.2] is available. Shaun Marsh at [7.0] and Mitchell Marsh at [11.0] appeal, though in case the Durban wicket behaves as usual and the top order struggles.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l