Australia wrapped up their 4 day tour game against a South African A side in Potchefstroom this week, securing victory by 7 wickets on Thursday. Peter Siddle put his hand up for a spot in the 1st test picking up test hopefuls J.P Duminy and Alviro Petersen; a return of 3/16 off 14 overs in the 1st innings a decent effort. Another 2 wickets in the 2nd innings left the Victorian paceman with 5 for the match, and would have done his chances at earning a recall to the side no harm. Mitchell Johnson continued his love affair with South Africa picking up 9 wickets for the match and was, judging by reports, a handful for the batsman. The Cricinfo descriptions of Johnsons dismissals are dominated by the words “full and straight”, it would appear that he was also getting inswing when bowling to the right handers; 4 l.b.ws and 3 bowled a reflection of his accuracy and a real positive for the side heading into the 1st test. Watson chipped in with a valuable 3 wickets in the 1st innings and was not required to bowl in South Africa’s 2nd dig; I still worry about Australia’s overreliance on Watson; a hip injury and back spasms suffered during the T20s and One Day International’s, at the start of the tour, a reminder that the all rounder must be treated with kid gloves and every effort must be made to limit his workload. A caveat must be added to the bowling performance though; the pitch was a bit of a minefield with some balls leaping off a length while others stayed down ideal conditions for the paceman and fully exploited by Johnson, Siddle and Watson. Disappointingly Trent Copeland was only able to pick up 1 wicket for the match, he also was relatively expensive going for 44 off 13 over’s in the 1st innings and 55 off 14 in the 2nd, not an ideal warm up for the medium pacer but with conditions as they were it is not surprising that the South African bats chose to attack the milder pace sent down by the New South Welshmen. Nathan Lyon also failed to have a significant impact on the game, picking up 2 wickets, as he found the opposition keen to attack him; the pitch was not particularly suited to the off spinners skills and with no real alternatives present I would be a surprised to see Lyon left out of the test side. So the question remains, who does Australia go with, in regards to bowlers, for the 1st test? Johnson, and the returning Ryan Harris, are givens and a Newlands pitch that promises to offer more assistance for the slower bowlers assures a spot for Lyon. Which leaves the selectors with the question of the 3rd seamers position; Siddle’s effort in Potchefstroom certainly puts him in the mix but Copeland’s ability to dry up the runs, despite what he showed in the tour game, will be a valuable commodity; allowing Johnson and Harris to “grip it and rip it” at the other end. So if I were a betting man I would say that Copeland will fill the 3rd seamer role with Siddle confined to carrying the drinks.
On a spicy pitch Australia’s batting struggled in the 1st innings; young right handed paceman Marchant de Lange was particularly awkward troubling all the batsmen with bounce and pace on his way to 5 wickets for the innings. Shaun Marsh once again proved that he is prepared to dig in and put a massive price on his wicket; 57 off 129 balls, in difficult conditions showing that the Western Australian is not about to miss any opportunities to cement a place at the top of the order. His second innings dig also showed another side to his game; his 73 coming off just 87 balls and included 15 boundaries proving that he is far from a one pace player and is capable of controlling the flow of a game. This ability to blend defensive attitudes with attacking flair is an evolution from the “attack at all costs” nature of Australian’s of the past decade as we look to negate teams, like England, that have used our offensive nature against us in recent years. Michael Clarke’s 74 was the highest score for Australia in the 1st innings and I am hoping that he continues to build on the form shown in Sri Lanka; the short highlight package I saw showed Clarke strong square of the wicket and he looks to be settling in to his position as captain. Shane Watson and Michael Hussey also got valuable time at the crease; Watson with a fluent 77 in the 2nd innings and Hussey’s defiant 44 not out in the 1st giving them a solid hit out in the lead up game. On the downside the likes of Hughes, Ponting and Haddin all failed to compile big scores; Haddin and Hughes were particularly disappointing, I would have loved to see Hughes make runs on a difficult deck and show that, against disciplined accurate short bowling, that his technique could stand up; I am still to be convinced. In Dale Steyn South Africa posses one of the world’s top paceman and I am sure Hughes will get worked over a great deal more than when he was in the country last time. Haddins dismissal as described by Cricinfo ,“guided straight into the hands of Behardien at gully, another wicket goes down for Australia, not a good shot by Haddin.” The Australian wicketkeeper has been given a stay of execution due to the fractured finger suffered by Tim Paine, but crunch time is arriving for Haddin; runs in the test series are a must if he is to justify a place in the Australian side for the upcoming series against New Zealand.
So a decent hit up for the Aussies; a very difficult deck giving the side a good warm up before facing the likes of Steyn and Morkel on Wednesday. The form of Siddle has given the selectors something to think about; I still like the idea of Copeland’s accuracy, it gives the attack more of a balanced feel. Do not expect Johnson to be as devastating as he was in this game, the pitch at Newlands has always been known to favour spin and Johnson will struggle to extract the bounce that was provided by a green top in Potchefstroom. Nathan Lyon will have to contribute wickets, in the handful of times i’ve seen him bowl it seems that he does not lack courage; he frequently gets the ball above the eyeline of the batsman and is prepared to go for a few runs in search of wickets, and as he proved on debut, if conditions suit, he is capable of picking up big hauls. With the bat Hussey and Marsh proved that the old adage of “making the bowler bowl to you” still rings true, leaving the ball outside off and waiting for the bowler to get too straight will be important against a world class bowler, in Steyn, and a more than capable partner in Morkel.
In the next few days I will be breaking down the key matchups in the series and attempting to make an educated prediction on who will come out on top.