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South Africa v Australia: Hosts can silence mouthy Aussies in potential thriller

Smith and Steyn star for South Africa
Smith and Steyn star for South Africa

"South Africa do not get the credit they deserve, possibly because they are not one of the 'big three' who make the most noise and will only get louder regardless of what their players do on the field. Quietly, and confidently, the Proteas are becoming one of the most fearsome outfits for some time."

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Back South Africa to win series at 1.865/6

Ed Hawkins previews the three-Test series between the sides ranked numbers one and three in the world, which starts in Centurion on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports 2 from 08:30...

Despite the boorish sneering and self-congratulation from Australian gobs ahead of the three-Test series in South Africa, the contest between the number one side in the world and the pretenders to the crown promises much.

South Africa are a powerful and ruthless well-oiled machine which, if needed, surges into overdrive with a sprinkle of star dust from the brilliant Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. Australia are the coming force relying on chutzpah, team spirit and the 'old school' nous of coach Darren Lehmann.

It should be a thrilling clash of contrasting styles, so why the need for Australia, ranked number three but closing fast on India, to irritate with childish antics ahead of the first Test in Centurion, which starts on Wednesday?

Shooting from the lip

So far they have boasted that they have the best bowling attack in the world, revealed they would be 'targeting' Graeme Smith (seriously? They'll be trying harder to get him out than anyone?), the spinner Robin Peterson will be in for a pasting and that the home batsmen are scared of Mitchell Johnson. Skipper Smith reacted with weariness, as if to say "they're not still doing this are they?" He called it "bull dot-dot-dot".

Perhaps the Australians are shooting their mouths off to drown out the self-doubt in their heads as they are unquestionably outsiders. South Africa are 1.865/6 to win the series with the tourists 3.55/2 and the draw 5.24/1.

Perhaps Australia are starting to wonder whether they are as good as they thought they were after Kevin Pietersen's sacking exposed deep rifts and non-existent 'team ethos' in the England camp during the 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

Certainly some of the gloss has been scrubbed off by the grubby tale. Beating 11 blokes who are all pulling in the same direction and have trust in one another is infinitely more worthy than despatching a rabble.

Indeed, the rationale that Australia must be good value because they come into this series on the back of a dominant one just does not stand up to scrutiny. We cannot be sure how good this Australian side is.

It is true that, despite humiliating England, a lot of the question marks about Australia were not answered. Even England exposed the Australian top order as one which can often find itself in a hole at 100-odd for five. 

And the troublesome number six spot, which suggested a weak underbelly before the Ashes, has not been filled adequately. George Bailey has been axed and either Phil Hughes or Shaun Marsh will be given the chance to stake a permanent claim. 

Watson injured

Fitness concerns are present, too. Shane Watson has been ruled out of game one while Ryan Harris, one suspects, is an injury waiting to happen. At 34 is he really capable of playing eight consecutive Tests?

Watson's absence is a major blow. Not only will they miss his batting prowess but his bowling, too. Australia look likely to have to field a four-man attack. In the Ashes, Watson was the fifth bowler. He bowled only 47 overs but the within-easy-reach comfort blanket will not be there this time.

An unbalanced Australia, who have not had a single warm-up, must therefore be considered poor value against South Africa who, in turn, look appetising at a shade under odds-on. It is easy to state a case that they should be shorter.

South Africa do not get the credit they deserve, possibly because they are not one of the 'big three' who make the most noise and will only get louder regardless of what their players do on the field. Quietly, and confidently, the Proteas are becoming one of the most fearsome outfits for some time.

They haven't lost for 14 series and, of those, they have won eight. At home they have lost only one of their last 14 series', dating back to 2006. That was against Australia and South Africa are yet to beat them on their own turf since readmission.

Alarm bells ring at such a stat when South Africa are concerned because of their vulnerability to psychological hang-ups. True, the Proteas did used to have a problem. Not anymore. Two series wins Down Under in their last two visits have cured the malady.

Home fortress

South Africa have had to make adjustments to their own balance following the retirement of Jacques Kallis. How much they miss him remains to be seen. Or does it? Win percentages of 50 with Kallis and 47 without do not suggest a problem.

There is safety in numbers, too, when analysing South Africa's record at the venues for the first and third Tests. They reveal the stiff task facing Australia in a short series with little margin for error.

In Centurion, South Africa have won 14 from 18, losing once - and that was the infamous Hansie Cronje fix against England. In Cape Town they have won 18 from the last 24. 

If Australia are not to be silenced then Johnson is their great hope. He took 16 wickets when Australia won 2-1 in South Africa in 2009. A repeat scoreline is 7.87/1 on the correct score market. South Africa are 6.05/1 to win 2-0. A 2-1 home win is second favourite just behind the 1-1 stalemate at 5.69/2.

Recommended bet
Back South Africa to win series at 1.865/6

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10 February 2014

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