First Test preview


The footy and racing are over and it’s time to turn attention to some real Test cricket coming back from South Africa. And what a mini-series it is in prospect, with the ramifications for both teams being huge.

We were entitled to feel pretty happy with the performance under our new skipper in Sri Lanka, but the gloss has been lost on that somewhat by Pakistan  –  yes, that team without about five of its best players  –   defeating the Sri Lankans in their series completed yesterday. But we’ll still take the positives.

Team selection is always a talking point about our line-ups in recent times, but on this occasion it’s straight forward : the batting is the same as in the last Test, while the attack is Johnson, Harris and Siddle. No Copeland – his story is over, and he shouldn’t even be on the tour  –   and no Cummins, not yet.

The debate on Siddle baffles me. He was our best bowler in our last Test with a four wicket haul, and he took 5 / 91 in last week’s tour game, Copeland took 1/98. What’s the issue? He’s aggressive, quickish and exactly the type of bowler we want to ruffle a few uneasy South African feathers.

South Africa are at a delicate stage of their cricket. Like us, they have some veterans who appear to be past their best, while some of their so-called young guns have self-doubts.

Paul Harris is trying to talk his way into the team by calling for leg-spinner Tahir to be teamed up with him as a spin duo on the placid Cape Town wicket. The time has come for Harris, the man with the qualities of a boarding house cup of tea  –  long and weak  –  to be exposed as the pie chucker that he is. How often have we watched him and just wished Gilly was playing?

The Proteas have other problems. Irish love has softened their skipper, and big Smithy isn’t a shadow of the player he once was. He seems to be struggling to pick up the ball early, and he’s now a liability in the field. Likewise, the highly respected Mark Boucher appears to have passed his use-by date.

Hashim Amla has had a fine 18 months but he might be scarred by his horrendous experience as captain in the one-dayers. The man couldn’t captain a tug-boat, and the way he crawled into his shell at times when the going got tough was an ominous sign for a man who plays on skill and thoughtfulness with the willow in hand. Our pacemen must bounce the hell out of him.

JP Duminy is hugely overrated by Australians based on a couple of good innings over here. The truth is that he has never really consolidated himself as a Test cricketer, and he has demons that he seems to constantly wrestle with. We must cash in on his insecurities immediately.

Australia must take in a positive and aggressive attitude to fight a similar approach that the Proteas will adopt against them. Admittedly we have some areas of concern ourselves  –  Hughes and Ponting need good starts, and Clarke needs to reinforce his growing authority with some tough runs  –   but I like the look of the order with Marsh at no.3, and Hussey is still a reassuring rock in the middle order

Watson versus Steyn and Morkel will be fascinating viewing, but big Watto must be careful that the innocuous-looking Tsotsobe doesn’t slip an inswinger into his pads early on. Everyone will be looking to get rid of Hughes for Warner if the former struggles in this series, but lets give the cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof a chance to back up his words with actions.

Lyon’s honeymoon is over and he must now show what he’s got that makes him different to any other conventional off-spinner on the international circuit who doesn’t bowl with a chink in his elbow or a rubbery wrist. Even Graeme Swann has hit the wall lately.

A big concern for the Aussies is the mindset of Brad Haddin. The toughie from Canberra seems to be running on empty since last summer, and there is no doubt his keeping hasn’t been good for the last two years. He batted brilliantly in the Ashes, but his batting appears to have been affected by his keeping problems and is now more desperate than calculated. He is a vital part of the stability of the team, but looks to be at a similar stage to where Healy was just before Gilchrist replaced him, and it wouldn’t surprise if Matthew Wade wasn’t in the picture by the New Year.

Of course it’s a shame this series isn’t longer  –  the South Africans couldn’t organise a chook raffle when it comes to Test cricket  –  and the empty stands will again spark debate about the future of Test cricket. The South Africans under the direction of Ali Bacher in the 1980s and 90s, and India over the last four years through the IPL, have done more than any other country to unbalance and ultimately weaken the position of Test cricket. But let’s enjoy these contests for what they are. We are going to be a lot wiser about a few individuals in a couple of weeks’ time.



  1. Thanks Brendan. Can’t wait for this to start.

    Interesting observation made by CricInfo last night: “Pakistan has lost only one Test in 10 since the spot-fixing crisis. Sri Lanka have won 0 Tests in 14 since Murali’s retirement.”

  2. Very much looking forward to this series, Brendan.

    I think Haddin may well turn out to be the story of the tour. Another poor series, and it may
    be curtains for him. His recent retirement from the national 20/20 was a pointer to his
    mindset at present, i.e. desperate to hang on.

  3. teaser tests.

  4. Looking forward to this series. Greg Baum wrote a very good piece in today’s Rage about Ricky Ponting. Could we be seeing the last of Ricky?

  5. There must be much-maligned tug-boat captains everywhere saying how quickly we can forget their heroics and that comparing them to Hashim Amla is outrageous.

  6. I liked the comments on the Punter article Dips.

  7. Steve Fahey says

    I wouldn’t write Ponting off yet. Tendulkar hit a flat spot about 3 years ago and has rebounded strongly. I agree that Ponting has declined significantly, but unlike in the eras where blokes like Mark Waugh, Siddons, Hayden, Eliiott and Law were knocking the door down,there isn’t anyone doing so at present. I’d still have the Pont in front of any of the other candidates at this stage.

    Hope he gets runs – would love to see him bat at 5 or 6 but the captain appears much better suited at 5 (and can’t make a run at 4) and Hussey is a genius batting with the tail.

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