A mouth-watering prospect, the upcoming series between Australia and South Africa, could hinge on the way the home side bats.
Even without Pat Cummins, Australia has the pace artillery to match it with the Proteas but there are potential pitfalls for a batting order still relying heavily on aging stalwarts Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting and injury isn’t the sole concern.
South Africa has a dangerous pace attack and two of the three Tests will be played on surfaces that assist the quickies. This will severely test the reflexes of the two oldest Australian batsmen so it will help both Hussey and Ponting if they follow a strong start and some shine is taken off the ball.
South Africa does have a history of making costly mental and tactical errors. While most of these brain snaps have occurred in the shorter formats, the Australians could provoke a telling lapse in this series if they’re prepared to mount a timely attack with the bat.
Both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel can be rattled by aggressive counter-attacks in the short forms of the game. When this happens they lose the plot for a few overs but they’re not the types to be dominated for long periods. Consequently, I would’ve preferred an opening combination of Shane Watson and David Warner.
They also happen to be the best Australian pairing at the top of the order. Watson is a class player of pace bowling and he’s the perfect partner for Warner.
Not only are they right and left–handed but they’re also aggressive and can put their side on top early. Australia then has the stroke makers down the order to maintain that initiative.
After being firm about wanting to open, Watson suddenly started to waver last season. This could’ve resulted from all the talk of him bowling more and needing to have a breather between fielding and batting. Watson is an opening batsman who should operate as a change bowler and that makes it easier not to use him close to a change of innings.
In the selected side, Watson will bat at three and Warner will open the batting with fellow left-hander Ed Cowan.
Cowan is a grinding opener who engages in a war of attrition with new ball bowlers. This may be counter-productive as South Africa’s high-class pace attack could tie him down and put the onus on Warner to keep the score moving. The South Africans could seize upon this as another way to rid themselves of the aggressive left-hander. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and erase a bat.
Warner will have to be alert to stay ahead of Steyn, Morkel and the highly efficient Vernon Philander. While a counter-attack can unsettle Steyn and Morkel, Philander belies his name; he doesn’t waver from a straight line and a good length.
This series was the perfect opportunity for Clarke to move up to three. He’s in excellent Test form and he’s the ideal player to capitalise on an aggressive start. He’s also shown that extra responsibility has boosted his batting rather than weighed him down. If Clarke has allowed himself to be talked out of batting at three then that means he’s not convinced he wants to do that job.
While Clarke’s attacking captaincy gives Australia a distinct advantage in the field his good batting form could be wasted at number five.
Barring injury Ponting will bat at four and he’s admitted his career won’t stand another bad trot. However, a string of low scores against this South African attack could be the result of good bowling rather than poor form.
He comes into the series well primed having scored heavily against a good attack and he’ll still be a prized wicket for the South Africans. Likewise Hussey who has a stabilising affect on the middle-order and the technique to withstand a withering spell of fast bowling. This pair may be aging but they’re still good players and sadly for Australian cricket there’s no young batsmen elbowing them out of the team.