Buoyant South Africa enter new territory
- Sports, Published on: Friday 11th November 16 - 10:37am
That South Africa won the first Test at the WACA was in some ways not surprising, for in their previous three Tests at the venue they were unbeaten, and they were accustomed to recent success in Australia, having not lost a series here since 2005-06. Even without their captain AB de Villiers, they were in familiar territory. Not so for the second Test at Bellerive Oval in Hobart, which will be South Africa's first Test appearance at the venue. And after Dale Steyn suffered a serious shoulder injury in Perth, South Africa are also on new ground in quite another way. Steyn and de Villiers made their debuts together against England in Port Elizabeth in December 2004 and this will be the first time since then that South Africa have entered a Test with neither man in the XI.
That might have been cause for concern were it not for the manner of their victory in Perth, where the performances of South Africa's newer players proved critical. There was Kagiso Rabada, the Man of the Match who stepped up heroically in Steyn's absence. There was Temba Bavuma, who made a fighting fifty, took his maiden Test wicket, and pulled off one of the finest run-outs in Test history. There was Quinton de Kock, who scored a pair of half-centuries, one a salvage mission and the other a savage mission. And there was Keshav Maharaj, the debutant spinner who took four wickets and smashed late runs that just rubbed in South Africa's dominance. True, hundreds from JP Duminy and Dean Elgar were key, but it was the contributions of these more junior figures that bode so well.
What about Australia? Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood bowled well on day one. David Warner looked in good touch in both innings. Usman Khawaja fought for 97. Peter Nevill showed his grit in the second innings. But by the end of the Test, the Australians were falling apart like the WACA pitch. They had lost a fourth consecutive Test. The balance of their side, with an underperforming Mitchell Marsh at No.6, was again cause for consternation. Nathan Lyon seemed to lack the confidence of his captain. Adam Voges' Bradmanesque 2015-16 summer seemed as distant a memory as the summers of Bradman himself. And to add injury to insult, Shaun Marsh and Peter Siddle were then ruled out of the Hobart Test.
Down in the series, already questions have been asked of Australia's preparation. Their men had not played red-ball cricket since the Test tour of Sri Lanka in August, for the only Sheffield Shield games came in a day-night round using pink balls. For the first time in two decades the first Test of the summer was moved from the Gabba, a fortress at which Australia have not lost since 1988, to the WACA, where they have not once beaten South Africa. Last time Australia won a home series after losing the first Test was in 1968, when Bill Lawry's men staged a comeback against West Indies. This time, Australia must overcome not only South Africa but also the Hobart weather, with rain expected over at least the first couple of days.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa: WWDWL
In the spotlight
Joe Mennie will be hoping his Test debut is more impressive than his first ODI. Last month, Mennie took 0 for 82 against South Africa in Johannesburg, the worst figures ever by an Australia bowler on ODI debut, and three of his likely Test opponents - Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy - batted against him in that game. But Mennie has fine recent red-ball form against the South Africans, having claimed two five-wicket hauls against South Africa A in first-class games in July and August. And plenty of his Test opponents were among his victims: Mennie dismissed Dean Elgar and Vernon Philander twice each, and Stephen Cook and Temba Bavuma once each. The leading Sheffield Shield wicket taker of last summer, Mennie's long-form record is far superior to his short-form figures.
One of the most impressive things about South Africa's win in Perth was that they achieved it with virtually no contribution from Hashim Amla, who made 0 and 1. As the only member of this team to have played in the pre-Steyn and pre-de Villiers era, Amla's experience will be invaluable to the squad for the remainder of this series. South Africa will hope his Perth failures were just a blip, and that Amla returns to the kind of touch that has brought him five Test hundreds against Australia, including two in Australia.
At least two changes will be necessary for Australia, with Shaun Marsh and Siddle both out injured. Joe Burns will therefore resume his partnership with David Warner at the top of the order and fast bowler Mennie will make his Test debut. But there is also the chance of a third change, with Mitchell Marsh under pressure after the inclusion of Callum Ferguson in the squad. Captain Steven Smith said on the eve of the game there was a chance Australia would go in with "six genuine batsmen", especially with the prospect of bad weather in Hobart, which would ease the workload on the bowlers. Adam Voges tweaked a hamstring in Perth but passed a fitness test on Friday and is expected to play.
Australia (possible) 1 David Warner, 2 Joe Burns, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Adam Voges, 6 Mitchell Marsh/Callum Ferguson, 7 Peter Nevill (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Joe Mennie, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
South Africa will also be forced to make one change due to the shoulder injury suffered by Dale Steyn in Perth. Kyle Abbott appears to have the front-running to replace Steyn, although Morne Morkel would come under consideration if passed fit. There is also the possibility that South Africa might choose four fast men given the conditions. Spinner Keshav Maharaj trained indoors on Friday, separate from the rest of the group, and is by no means a guaranteed starter. Dwaine Pretorius will not arrive in Hobart until Saturday, so a four-man pace attack would mean both Abbott and Morkel in the XI.
South Africa (possible) 1 Stephen Cook, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 JP Duminy, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Kyle Abbott, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Keshav Maharaj/Morne Morkel.
Pitch and conditions
The Bellerive Oval pitch is typically very good for batting in Test matches, and there is no reason to expect anything different this year. However, rain is expected on at least the first two days, and overcast conditions should help the fast bowlers swing the ball.
Stats and trivia
- Only once in the past five Hobart Tests has the team batting first been bowled out. The other four first-innings scores were 5 for 542, 8 for 519, 5 for 450 and 4 for 583 - all by Australia.
- Australia will miss Siddle in Hobart, where he is the all-time leading Test wicket taker among fast bowlers, with 22 wickets at 15.72.
- Perhaps a good start for Smith would be to win the toss. Of the past 20 Tests in which Australia batted second, they lost 11; of the past 20 Tests in which they batted first, they lost only two.
"It was a disappointing loss, I'm going okay. Things haven't gone to plan so far, but we've got an opportunity to turn it around this week. The guys are in good spirits, we've prepared well again like we have for every Test and guys are keen and eager to get out there and turn this series around."
Steven Smith, Australia's captain