Cricket: Australia in South Africa 2014, Second Test Preview

The second test between South Africa and Australia kicks off tomorrow night at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth. Off the back Australia’s thrashing of South Africa at Centurion Park by 281 runs all of the pressure is on the home team to break Australia’s streak of wins at six without Jacques Kallis whilst also rebuffing Mitchell Johnson’s willing attack.

Aside from the performance of AB de Villiers with the willow in both innings there is not a player in their line who did not underperform in the first test match. With the ball the “best bowling attack in the world” was put to the sword by Australia’s inexperienced top order. In particular spinner Robin Peterson was outclassed and seemed bereft of ideas. With the willow Mitchell Johnson had his opponents on the back foot right from the start. In the field: things fell swiftly apart for the Proteas, so much so that dropped catches became the norm. Simply put: they have much to improve on in this game.

For the Australians, the first test match was a repeat of many of the performances of the Ashes series. They were in trouble in the first innings until a big partnership saved the innings. The bowlers dominated the opponent’s batters and benefited from some loose shots. Then in the second innings they benefited from a David Warner century. As bizarre as it is say it (considering I am talking about a team that has won six test matches in a row): there is still room for improvement to be made in Australia’s performances particularly in the top order batting.

The biggest battle in this game though presents as the battle between the captains and the back room tacticians. Michael Clarke bested Graeme Smith in the captaincy by some distance in the first test match. Indeed from the moment Smith won the toss and bowled Clarke was ahead of him in the captaincy battle. Further though Australia seemed to be much better prepared and had more refined plans for what they intend to do for each of the batters and bowlers they would face. South Africa conversely seemed bereft of ideas and without a plan B once their usual processes failed.

Australia will select the same team for this fixture, injuries permitting, which is the benefit of winning by such a margin. South Africa though have decisions to make at the top of the order and in the spinner ranks as well finding a replacement for Ryan McLaren who has been ruled out with concussion. With St George’s Park likely to play more like the Adelaide Oval than any other Australian ground the role of the spinner will be vital in this second test.

Sitting over all of this is the spectre of whether South Africa has adjusted to the loss of Jacques Kallis. Simply put: he is irreplaceable but the hole he has left is one that an attempt at least needs to be worked on in this post Kallis era.

I predicted a South African series win at the start of this series in part because I thought there was a question mark over the form line of the Australians coming out of the issues. Australia’s performance in the first test match, albeit still with room for improvement, has shown that they can beat the South Africans but it must be admitted that this was a South African team that was operating significantly below their usual par. I expect the South Africans to improve but whether they have enough improvement in them to best the on a role Australians is questionable. Given the likely pitch conditions I am tipping a draw in this game which will go a long way to, ultimately, an Australian series victory.

Play commences at 6:30pm Brisbane time. Umpires for this fixture will be Richard Illingworth and Ian Gould with Aleem Dar in the TV chair.

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