31 October 2012
As the Baggy Greens continue to make progress to regain the number ranking in Test cricket, the Proteas will be prepping with care and tightening every part of their game to boost their points to hold onto the number 1 rank.
What is great this time around is that it is very difficult to predict which team will walk away victorious. There's obvious differences between the sides and their perceived strengths but the cricket will just be so intense if both sides play their best cricket. It is not easy to play guessing games and that is adding to both the hype and excitement.
Last time the sides met in Australia (2008/09) it was a historical series for the Proteas.
They were the first side to beat Australia in a home Test series in 16 years.
They also succeeded in the highest Test run chase the WACA and then secured the series at the MCG where JP Duminy and Dale Steyn managed to form a match defining partnership before Steyn superbly executed his skills to claim 10 wickets for the match.
The Sydney Test was a nail biter where Graeme Smith came out with a broken hand to face an inform Mitchell Johnson but couldn't see out the remaining time as Mitch knocked back his stumps.
The Baggy Greens went on to win a memorable series in South Africa shortly after and then returning to the country last year the sides battled it out to draw the two match series 1-1.
The Baggy Greens had the upper hand in the first Test and threw it away after a freak day of batting which saw a wicket fest and included an embarrassing 47 all out.
The Proteas had the advantage in the final Test at the Wanderers and were so close to clinching the series but Patrick Cummins and Mitchell Johnson kept their cool and got the boys over the finish line.
It's always been an epic battle with high intensity cricket with no shortage of talking points between these sides.
Looking back to the 2008 series, of the current Australian squad only four players were in that series.
Ricky Ponting is looking fresh and the maestro is unquestionably up for the battle having found form for the Tasmanian Tigers prior to the series commencing. We also can't forget his last summer! It will be a serious test of his experience out there and many will look at his challenge stacked up against Jacques Kallis'.
Michael Clarke was the top run scorer in 2008 with 383 runs at 76.60 and has taken over captaincy with critical acclaim after Ricky Ponting stepped down.
Michael Hussey was going through a terrible period in his cricket journey during he 2008/09 season and he ended the series with just 85 runs at an average of 17.00. He has also found a way to recapture his form.
Lastly, Peter Siddle was building his self-belief as a young man new to the Australian cricket team in a side that was falling a few steps backwards as a bowling unit. Pedro ended the series with a hard fought effort to take 13 wickets and has since gone from strength to super strength. His ambition is a vital ingredient and he's a seasoned campaigner now and takes on the Proteas as the most experienced bowler of the group with international experience.
Other than that it's a fresh side that has emerged since the Ponting era.
Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee have all retired.
Matthew Wade has been favoured over Brad Haddin which marks a serious step forward for Australian cricket as they focus on moving forward with a young keeper who needs as much experience as possible to develop his game and skills. Even Hads has given Matt the thumbs up with his selection and that should boost his self-belief and is also the sign of a true gentleman.
Mitchell Johnson was the leading wicket taker in 2008 and won the ICC Cricket of the Year award soon after. Sadly, as such a gifted sportsman, his journey has dissolved into a case where he has become the forgotten man of Australian cricket. This was also a stage where Australia's batting was still in good hands but the bowling had started to take a serious turn for the worse.
Brett Lee was having further injury problems and was still recovering from off field distractions in his personal life. Nathan Hauritz was given a go after Jason Krejza was dropped by the Hilditch panel and the spinner axe was just getting started as the changes were about to become seriously rapid after Shane Warne retired.
Now there's a rejuvenated Australian bowling attack that will have the South African batsman concentrating from ball one and will inevitably be unable to fight back nerves. Add a vocal crowd of Baggy Green fanatics and it makes for an intimidating environment, far more so than 2008.
Peter Siddle leads the attack with Ben Hilfenhaus, who rediscovered himself last summer (37 wickets in 7 Tests), and James Pattinson ready to back him with their different offerings. Then there's Mitchell Starc who provides the left arm seamer option and he's a man who may have played very little cricket in the white clothing in recent times but he's not shy of form.
We have a splendid fast bowling unit and I am proud of the development since 2008. It's a huge contrast to a bowling attack that was flat and lacking both tenacity and "imagination".
Nathan Lyon has played against South Africa so he will be no stranger.
How Michael Clarke uses him and tactically executes a game plan will be vital against the Proteas. It will be a fragile role to be played and while this is a Test series for the seam bowlers, Nathan's role should not be underestimated. I think he will have a significant role to play and time will tell under what circumstances this will prevail.
The batting has been the concern for the Baggy Greens if we were to point out the perceived weakness.
David Warner and Ed Cowan are still finding their way forward as an opening duo and while this is taking shape, the inconsistency that does creep into our lineup has been a worry where too few batsmen deliver the goods. With an opening duo striving for compatibility these collapses and inconsistencies prove to be too costly.
Too often the batsmen are not collectively putting runs on the board. This has left one or two batsmen with a daunting task in recovering the innings and this is something that exposed our bowlers where they did not have sufficient runs on the board to defend.
Fortunately, the bowling unit has since grown and become a force to be reckoned with and if Michael Clarke continued his sublime form in Test cricket with his colleagues following in pursuit it will be a mighty strong side to witness.
It will also be interesting to see where Shane Watson is slotted into the batting line-up.
His time at number three was certainly not ideal given his struggles for conversion of the many starts he has managed. He took on the position as no one else has really lifted up their hand to take on the position to make it their own but I do think Michael Clarke should be nestled in that position.
Watto's technique is suited to the new ball but having him in that middle order will not allow the Proteas to relax. I am interested to see what the plan is for him. In the 2008 series Andrew Symonds was the all-rounder of choice until injury set in and as a result Andrew McDonald debuted at the SCG. Both played drastically different roles and in terms of the overall packaged deal Watto is a more versatile option we are fortunate to have.
By comparison of the side it would seem that The Proteas have just as much, if not a bit more, to boast about.
The do have the best fast bowling trio, based on the last season or two, but will be tested in Australia, especially if the Baggy Greens are on top of their game in home conditions. Dale Steyn may have not been at his best for a while but he is a bloke with an insane skill set and appears to execute almost effortlessly. Vernon Philander has had one of the greatest emerging seasons I have ever seen for a bowler and Morne Morkel has found better rhythm as his games developed, although he is disastrous on his off days which we should cash in if this should occur.
The batting has just as much depth as the Baggy Greens and whereas only four players of the 2008 Australian squad are in this current side, the Proteas have seven and a few additions that make their side stronger than the '08 squad.
On paper it would be fair to say the Proteas have the edge but in terms of ability to adapt in the moment of play and collective input the Baggy Greens have a far more intimidating side. These two elements coming to the boil just leaves me with a wild imagination as to what awaits us. It really is exciting.
I strongly believe the boys can take this series. I see no reason why not if they play their best cricket. If some sides play their best cricket against the Proteas there is a chance they will still come undone if the Proteas do the same on their side.
However, the Baggy Greens are not in the category and while I am not bursting with confidence I do believe this is the exact challenge our guys need as the squad has been heading in the right direction.
If there's one thing to settle your gut feeling on it's that when these sides meet, the first session often seems to give an indication as to what's ahead.
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