As soon as the Test series between South Africa and Australia began, it is about to be concluded in the second and final Test at the Wanderers. PAUL BERKOWITZ writes from the steam cooker of Johannesburg, a city sluggish under an oppressive heatwave, and wonderers which team will be hardened by the heat and which one will crack.
Johannesburg has been slowly throttled by a heatwave these last two weeks. This mad, bad city has a fever that has not yet broken. Heavy cloud, but no rain. A few stray claps of thunder have teased but there’s been no relief in sight, and the natives are growing even more restless and irritable than usual, your humble narrator included.
Relief is on the way, with rain forecast for the second Test match between South Africa and Australia. Thursday looks to be best for batting, with more sun and less cloud, while Friday and Saturday are expected to be overcast with rain interrupting play. The forecast for Sunday and Monday looks like rain of a more serious persuasion and a drop in the mercury to below 25 degrees for the first time in days.
Despite the expected rain (and bad light) interruptions, this Test is not likely to end in a draw. The last ten Tests at Wanderers have all been results, and both sides are desperate to win, for different reasons. For Clarke and his men, they need to salvage a share of the series spoils. For Smith and company, they will have an eye on returning to the top of the Test rankings and be aware that they don’t have many Tests in which to achieve this. It’s double or nothing in this series of two Tests.
The Aussies might blood the 18-year-old Pat Cummins in a bid to level the series. He’s done well on this tour so far in the shorter versions of the game. If they do and he helps take them to a famous victory, it will hailed as a famous victory and an audacious choice by the selectors. If Cummins is chosen and the Aussies are shot out, it will be seen as a desperate roll of the dice by a country whose bowling cupboard is bare.
My head says that the South Africans are too experienced, too settled and just too good for an Aussie outfit that seems beset on all sides with problems. My heart reminds me of the horrors that the Proteas have faced at this ground in recent years; the assassin-turned-breakdancer Sreesanth battered the Proteas on the second day of a Test that saw 20 wickets fall; a young Mitchell Johnson broke bits off the South African batmen here almost three years ago; and three years before that another Australian team grimly ground out a two-wicket victory. The Wanderers has provided its fair share of heartache to South African fans in recent times.
The South Africans are likely to maintain an unchanged line-up, dashing the hopes of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Paul Harris. Although Imran Tahir did not do enough to impress at Newlands, the selectors are likely to give him another run, even if the expected weather conditions are likely to keep the pitch juicy.
The city is holding its breath and waiting for some sweet release, which may come in the form of the first real rain this season near the tail end of the Test. Whether this washes away the sins of the Aussies, rejuvenating them for their upcoming series with New Zealand, or leaves them sinking deeper into the mire remains to be seen. DM