Australia’s fearsome attack creates dilemma for South Africa

The host may field seven batsmen in the first Test between the sides at Kingsmead, Durban.

Faf du Plessis (centre) and AB de Villiers (second from right), who missed much of the limited-overs series against India, will be available to play on Thursday.   -  AP

Some of the world’s best fast bowlers will square up when the first Test between South Africa and Australia starts at Kingsmead on Thursday. They may find, however, that some of their sting might drawn from them by pitch conditions.

Kingsmead has lost the reputation it once had as a fast bowler’s paradise. It has been many years since wicket-keepers had to leap around as balls soared and sped off the playing surface. Indications are that the pitch will offer encouragement but not excessive help to the fast men, with enough grass on the surface to assist movement off the seam.

The South African team, it seems, has given up on trying to influence conditions after their “requests” to groundsmen resulted in pitches that were less than ideal for a recent three-Test series against India. The surface for the third Test at the Wanderers was condemned as poor by International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee Andy Pycroft.

‘Best possible pitches’

“Everybody knows what happened at the Wanderers, so we’ve left the groundsmen to prepare the best possible pitches that they can,” coach Ottis Gibson said last week.

Assuming the conditions are fair, it should be a red-blooded battle between the teams ranked second and third in Test cricket behind India. Both have potent fast bowlers and exciting, if fragile, batting line-ups.

South Africa won the first two Tests against India with a four-man pace attack, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj and just six top-quality batsmen. But it may be tempted to strengthen its batting at the expense of one of the specialist bowlers. That decision may be influenced by a lack of form of key players as well as injuries which kept several out of action in recent weeks.

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Captain Faf du Plessis is expected to play, although the right index finger he broke four weeks ago remained bandaged and he took a minimal part in the team’s first practice in Durban on Monday. Wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock was woefully out of form with the bat before being injured in a one-day series against India, opening the door for Heinrich Klaasen to take over the gloves and play some crucial innings.

Fearsome attack

Both Klaasen and De Kock have been named in a 15-man squad for the first two Tests. South Africa’s batsmen will face a fast bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, backed by the off-spin of Nathan Lyon - rated by former Australian captain Steve Waugh as the best attack in the world.

Australia’s batting has relied greatly in recent times on captain Steve Smith and opener David Warner, so South Africa will be hoping to get through its two stars and put pressure on the rest of the batting line-up with a bowling attack spearheaded by Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.

Teams
  • South Africa (from): Faf du Plessis (c), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Lungi Ngidi, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Wiaan Mulder, Heinrich Klaasen (wk),
  • Australia (likely): Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.