Sport

Cricket: There’s no getting the Aussies in a spin

By Antoinette Muller 6 February 2014

South Africa and Australia’s preparation for the most anticipated series of the summer continues at full intensity. The Proteas are pottering along in a warm-up match while the Aussies have been relegated to net practice and the Aussies continue to take sly mental jibes at their opponents. By ANTOINETTE MULLER

While the Australian team has to settle for nets sessions following their warm-up game being cancelled, South Africa are pottering about in a warm-up game against a Composite XI at the Wanderers. The opposition is made up out of some fringe players and some players already in the South African Test squad.

A glance at the scorecard reveals very little from a bowling perspective. Dale Steyn took three wickets and Robin Peterson chipped in with two while there was a wicket apiece for Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. The bowling attacks have been the talking point ahead of the contest and Aussie batsman David Warner added his two cents on it all, too. Forget keeping cards close to the chest – Warner made it pretty clear that Peterson would be in their sights when the first Test came about.

Peterson is likely to be called upon to play more of a holding role, but Australia’s approach against spin has been brutal. They took Graeme Swann to the cleaners in the Ashes and Warner was of the belief that Peterson and Duminy could very well bowl in tandem.

“I think they’ll use probably Duminy and him simultaneously,” said Warner.

“They’ve got to hold up one end as well as they can, and if we put pressure on both of them they’re going to have to bring back their quicks. I think that’s a job we did very well against England.

“Any team that has quality fast-bowlers always tries to take down the spinner. We did that against Graeme Swann. We know England tried to do that to Nathan (Lyon), we tried to do it against Robin when he played against us in Australia [in late 2012]. We’ve got to respect him, and then when we feel we can go after him we’ll go after him.”

Peterson played one Test on that tour and picked up six wickets at an average of 28.50. He rarely managed to turn the screws, though, with just three maidens out of the 28.1 overs he bowled. However, parts of the Australian batting line-up are fragile, so giving the visitors even an inch will be too much of a risk.

That’s where South Africa’s fast bowlers will play a massive role. Wickets up front will be crucial, while keeping the pressure on the Aussie batsmen will be put squarely at the feet of Morne Morkel. It’s a task he performed well last year with an economy rate of just 2.29 per over in 16 innings. Morkel might not be picking up wickets by the bucket load, but he is worth his weight in gold when it comes to putting the pressure on.

Warner, though, had his sights set on another South African bowler – Vernon Philander. Philander has only played two series and four Tests in total against the rivals. He was brutally destructive on home turf, but struggled on flat decks in Australia. Warner couldn’t resist a sneaky upper cut at the world’s number one ranked bowler.

“I would have liked to see him bowl at Adelaide in that second Test when he apparently hurt his back and was bowling in the nets three days later,” Warner said.

“On a flat wicket, who knows? But on a good wicket he’s very tough and will be challenging. We know that, we’ve seen the amount of dismissals he gets.

“I was watching yesterday the highlights of us when we played over here last in his first series [in 2011], he was nibbling them about and obviously conditions were in his favour. If it becomes flat we’ve got to make the most of it and try to get on top of him, but if it’s green and seaming we’ve got to try to respect him as much as we can,” he added.

South Africa’s batting in the warm-up might leave some corners concerned. Faf du Plessis described it as a “difficult track to bat on early on” and it showed. Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla all failed to make an impact with the bat in both innings with none of them managing to pass 30. Amla’s form against India was suspect, with a top score of just 36 in three innings. It should hardly be a worry, though. The longest Amla has gone without passing 50 is four tests and that was back in 2006. Additionally, although the formats might be like chalk and cheese, Amla was also the second highest run-scorer in South Africa’s domestic T20 competition. Although he has looked susceptible to left-handers and Mitchell Johnson remains a threat, it’s unlikely that his form should be too much of a concern. Petersen remains under the microscope and although he managed two valuable knocks against India, it’s been over a year since he managed a hundred and that came against New Zealand.

Smith is fresh off a double hundred against Pakistan and feisty efforts against India, so while there might be caution surrounding the top order, there is nothing to be overly concerned about. AB de Villiers has taken no part in the match due to not being fully fit following hand surgery, and Philander provided some impetus in the first innings with an unbeaten 58 while Du Plessis was going steady by close of play on the second day, finishing unbeaten on 67.

From a distance, the Proteas look as they normally do: a little rusty in departments, but more than ready for the challenge. There’s just one thing which remains unclear. Who on earth is going to be the person to replace Kallis? Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell both flopped with the bat and Dean Elgar scored a duck. Rory Kleinveldt has emerged as a left-field option with his 33 in the first innings and two wickets to boot.

Selectors have suggested it will very much be a “courses for horse” policy, but what exactly the course will look like will only be known next week.

Score card summary:

South Africa vs SA composite XI

SA 1st innings: 300 all out

Dale Steyn 36 (47), Vernon Philander 58 * (143); Beuran Hendricks 17.1-5-52-3, Simon Garmer 24-3-101-3

SA Composite XI 1st innings: 135 all out

Quinton de Kock 50 (122), Stiaan van Zyl 24 (57); Dale Steyn 11.5-2-40-3, Robin Peterson 8-5-9-3

SA 2nd innings: 147-5

Graeme Smith 27 (88), Faf du Plessis 67* (105); Hardus Viljoen 11-3-30-2, Beuran Hendricks 4-2-7-1

South Africa lead by 312 runs with 5 wickets remaining. DM

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