The second Test between Australia and South Africa looks dead set for a result, but there are more than enough points to ponder for both sides before the teams step over the white line on Thursday. ANT SIMS previews the action.
After a stalemate at Brisbane, Australia and South Africa will resume hostilities in the second Test, and things are bound to get very heated out in the field. There has been much talk about the battle in the middle of the pitch, not just between bat and ball, but also the verbal battle between the two sides.
There will be more chatter between the two teams when they step out onto the pitch for the second Test, but the real test will be, of course, who can manage a result. And there will be a result this time: in the past 19 years there have only been three draws, and the pitch has generally been spin-friendly.
It’s a tricky situation for South Africa, as the team has to decide whether to risk Imran Tahir or opt for a part-time option, despite Rory Kleinveldt’s unremarkable debut. He hasn’t quite set the international stage alight since starting out, but in conditions which favour the spinners, he could be the Proteas’ best bet.
The other question is who is going to replace JP Duminy, who snapped his Achilles tendon and has been ruled out of cricket for at least six months. Dean Elgar was called up to the squad to replace him, but Faf du Plessis looks the more likely option right now. Du Plessis has been touring with the Test side since their tour of England, and is more senior. He also has something to offer with the ball – which could come in handy for the South Africans on a crumbling and turning wicket.
Australia, meanwhile, has to decide what to do with Shane Watson, who missed out on the first Test owing to injury. He trained with the team on Tuesday, and there is a chance that he will play solely as a batsman, should he be fit enough.
"He'll have a certain criteria he'll have to pass, there'll be certain amount of running he'll have to do and things to do to prove he's right to play a Test match," Ricky Ponting said.
"No-one can go into a Test match 70% fit. I don't care if you're a batsman and a slips fielder; if you can't bat at 100% then you're putting pressure on other blokes as well.
"Someone's got to run with him between the wickets, and I'm sure that'll be at the back of his mind. It'll certainly be at the back of the minds of the physios and doctors looking after him for the next couple of days. I've only seen him on what he's done in the nets over the last couple of days; I believe he did some extra running last night and today, but he'll make sure he's ticking all the boxes to be right to play the game."
Whatever happens and whoever plays is almost irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, however. The Test is a massive momentum shifter for whoever wins. With just two Tests left in the series and the number one ranking at stake, both sides will want to dig deep and ensure that they engineer a positive result. And they will do so with gusto when it comes to bat, ball and words.
South Africa hasn’t played at Adelaide in over 10 years, and the hosts’ record at the ground is impressive, having won 35 of their 70 Tests there. As Graeme Smith has so often pointed out, going to Australia and winning there is no easy task, but having done it before might offer some hint of inspiration for the Proteas. They’ve certainly showed they’ve got the mettle to beat the best in the last few months, and being the architects of another memorable win down under will be a further feather in the team’s cap – a step closer, too, to becoming one of the current generation’s greatest Test teams.
Players to watch
If Imran Tahir actually plays at Adelaide, this is his best chance to prove himself him Test cricket. He’ll have conditions in his favour and he will have to stay focused. He will also need to relax and work on his problem with overstepping the line. Tahir has good variation, but he hasn’t quite found his feet in Test cricket: if he can just stay calm and work with what he has in his favour, he could be impressive in the second Test.
Before the Test series against South Africa started, Ricky Ponting was scoring some serious runs on Australia’s domestic circuit. He averaged 118.33 in four matches with a high score of 162* - impressive stuff for a player under the cosh for so long. He struggled in the first Test against South Africa, but as is so often pointed out in cricket, form is temporary, class is permanent.
The weather forecast for Adelaide looks really good, with hot weather predicted for all five days of the Test and temperatures soaring up to 34 degrees Celsius. A few clouds are forecast for the second day, which might help the seamers, but all in all the weather looks great. So unless the earth opens up and swallows both teams, there should be a result. DM
Photo: Australia's Michael Clarke (L) plays a shot as South Africa's Graeme Smith dives to field during the first cricket test match at the Gabba in Brisbane November 12, 2012. REUTERS/Aman Sharma