Whilst Australia remains in the heart of a short form cricket series against the England, I was reminded yesterday that we are only 2 weeks away from the start of Australian tour to South Africa. I have been involved in much water cooler talk, twitter discussion and pub ranting about the selection of Australia’s squad for this tour and have spent much time pondering how this tour might go for the Australians and it is clear to me that this tour has piqued an equal, if not greater, level of interest to any overseas tour by the Australian as I can remember of late.
Here are some talking points that have come to the front of mind when thinking about this tour:
1. Does Australia have a chance?
This tour is, afterall, a tour slated as a heavyweight bought between the current number 1 team, South Africa, and the, suddenly, new incumbent challenger for the heavy weight cricket crown, Australia. I wonder though if that incumbency has arisen under a false pretence? Yes Australia played well to defeat England in the Ashes but the more I re-watch the highlights of each test I am left with the nagging suspicion that Australia was flattered by just how bad the English were in Australia. Australia will not be able to draw on, for example, so many opposition wickets to bad shots and bad balls because the South African line up is just too disciplined for that. Don’t get me wrong: in any contest between two rivals both combatants always have a chance of victory so the answer to the question raised above is somewhat rhetorical BUT I suspect Australia’s chances are slimmer than many expect.
2. Who will bat 3 for Australia?
In the Ashes series Shane Watson held down the number slot with George Bailey batting at number 6. Bailey’s replacements in the squad, Doolan and Marsh (assuming he returns to fitness), are both top order batters who have spent the bulk of their careers (if not all) batting at no lower than number 4 in the order. One would have to think that one of Doolan or Marsh (if selected) would bat at number 3 and Watson would shuffle down the order to number 6 and play a true all rounder role. Why else would Inverarity have picked two top order replacements?
3. How will Australia react once there is "chum" in the water?
South Africa have made a mockery of many batting lineups in the last 2 years and have an imposing record of having bowled out opponents for less than 50 three times in that span. Metaphorically speaking, once the "chum" of early wickets floats in front of the sharks that are Steyn, Philander and Morkel, often batting line ups can find no way to get out of the chum trail and find themselves back in the field shortly thereafter. There is a frailty at the top of Australia’s batting line up that tells me that at some point they will face this scenario and if they react poorly a test could be taken away from them in a blink of an eye.
4. Warner v Steyn
I have been watching a lot of highlights of D Steyn’s bowling on YouTube of late. The biggest impression gained from this perusal is that Steyn bowls out left handed batters with weak defensive techniques for sport. He will go around the wicket to David Warner and will probe around his off stump at 145kms moving the ball both ways. Warner has shown a renewed application and focus on his craft against England in Australia however facing Dale Steyn is, in young people speak,"next level" and any weakness in his defence will be exposed.
5. No Kallis: no worries?
The South African hierarchy must have been planning for the retirement of J Kallis for some time but now that that time is here there will be a sharp focus on whomever replaces Kallis in the lineup. It is not possible to replace a player of Kallis’ stature (better than Tendulkar in my view) and thus how South Africa seeks to cover the hole left by this icon of the game’s absence will be both intriguing and, potentially, integral to the ultimate outcome of the series.
I have been asked by many to posit what the outcome of this series will be and I am sad to say that I am tipping, as much as it hurts my heart to do so, a South African series victory. I hope I am wrong but I remain worried about items such as the selection of out of form players by Australia, injuries to bowlers and the form line generally coming from the Ashes. Equally, it will be an enthralling series filled with moments of much drama and, possibly, the defining of some careers. Bring on the late nights night and banter!