I am not the first, and definitely will not be the last to bemoan the ridiculous nature of this series taking the guise of a 2 Test match up between heated rivals. This is due to the preference being shown to money cricket (T20), rather than respect being shown to the true form of the game in Tests. Sadly it is a cynical World we live in, and rather than be frustrated by the obvious grab for T20 cash. That so occupies World cricket in this age.
Let us instead find a smile by dissecting what should be a cracker of a series, starting with this first Test.
The South Africans have a very solid outfit, that has been made even steelier at the top of the order with the re inclusion of a fabulous player in Jacques Rudolph. So it takes away one of the weaknesses in the line up in the opening partner for Captain Graeme Smith. The only real conjecture about the team is whether Ashwell Prince or JP Duminy gets the nod to bat at 6.
Both have been similar in their struggles in the Test arena with Prince averaging 32.23 in his last 17 innings and Duminy averaging 18.81 in his last 17 innings. I would select Duminy, not only because I think he is a fine young player, but also on a pitch that might turn. His very underrated off spin might be a decisive factor in the Test. So, this would be my Team.
Smith, Rudolph, Amla, Kallis, DeVilliers, Duminy, Boucher, Steyn, Morkel, Tahir, Tsotsobe.
The Australians have a pretty settled line up like the South Africans. The only real question mark will be over who gets the third seamers role with it being between Peter Siddle and Trent Copeland. I think this is a no brainer with Siddle being a more complete bowler than Copeland. In the threat he poses with new or old ball, whereas Copeland once the shine goes off the ball his threat goes as well with him becoming very much military medium. Duly leaving the line up like this.
Watson, Hughes, Marsh, Clarke, Ponting, Hussey, Haddin, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon.
Who Wins, and Why?
The more I pontificate about this series, the more I come to the conclusion that this game, and ultimately the series will be decided by which Team bats the best.
I say this because of the support to the bowlers that South Africa conditions usually give, and then the potential threat of the individual bowlers. Starting with South Africa, in Dale Steyn you have a bowler that is comparable to any bowler in the history of the game. Then his able offsider Morne Morkel gets better by the year as his average of 25.21 in his last 12 Tests show.
Then you have the evergreen Jacques Kallis, and two bowlers in the left arm swing bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Imran Tahir that could make an already very fine bowling attack into one that is frighteningly good.
In particular Tahir, by the fact that the Aussies haven’t seen much of him could be a real success with his leg spin.
Though, Australia haven’t got a bowler of the threat and presence of Dale Steyn. In Ryan Harris, they have a bowler that I anticipate will shake the South African batting line up to its very foundations.
The South African conditions will be like a bed for Harris to lie in, and with his pace, swing and how much he gets the ball to talk off the wicket. Expect him to be a wrecking ball all series.
Also, Peter Siddle in these conditions is going to be one very hard customer to deal with for the South African batsmen. If Mitchell Johnson can replicate any of his exploits from a few years back in South Africa then the Aussies will be well placed for an upset win.
Though having any faith in Mitchell Johnson to be anything but a sequel of Steve Harmison in regards to erraticness and frustration is never a good idea.
Completing Australia’s attack nicely is the threat of Shane Watson, and his lethal reverse swing. He might be an opening batsman at present, but has all the ability to be a very fine opening bowler.
So in the face of potentially great bowling, which Teams batting has the best chance of handling the assault the best and posting respectable scores?
I think this is pretty easy to discern with names of real quality in the South African line up, such as Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB DeVilliers and Graeme Smith. In comparison with Australia’s Swiss like cheese batting line up that has many holes.
Only Mike Hussey has been a thing of certainty in terms of performance in the Aussie line up with Michael Clarke showing signs of a renaissance in Sri Lanka after near on two years of struggle.
Shaun Marsh looked very assured at number 3 in Sri Lanka, and I do not want to diminish in any way his very fine performance there. It must be said that batting on Sri Lankan roads against their bowling attack of pie chuckers is a bit different to facing Steyn and compnay in South Africa.
The rest of the batting has major concerns.
Starting with Phil Hughes who saved his career with a century in the 3rd Test in Sri Lanka on a real road, but has a technique as loose as a weightwatchers girdle. That will duly be victimised in South Africa.
Then the vastly diminished form of Shane Watson at the top, and the once great Ricky Ponting.
Watson averaging 38.10 in his last 29 innings and 24.28 in 2011.
Ponting averaging 34.70 in his last 27 innings and 31.00 in 2011.
Both are fine players, and indeed Ponting a great of the game, but you would have to be an eternal optimist to view them refinding form on this tour.
I can see Australia giving some real cheek with their bowling.
Though I can not see any possible way that the Australian batting can stand up against a very formidable and varied attack. Whereas I can see the South African batting being accomplished enough to contend with the Aussie attack.
So barring rain, South Africa should win easily.