The forthcoming Test series against Australia will be South Africa's best chance of upsetting the Aussies in their own den.
The forthcoming Test series against Australia will be South Africa's best chance of upsetting the Aussies in their own den. The Proteas are on a high having won eight of their last nine Tests. Australia, on the other hand, despite having beaten New Zealand at home are yet to fully recover from the appalling loss to India. Man-to-man too South Africa can match Australia in the series which has all the makings of a cracker.
In Graeme Smith, South Africa have an able and experienced leader. When he took over the captaincy from Shaun Pollock in 2003 when was very raw even as a player. But five years into the job, he is definitely a lot smarter. He may not have a great tactical acumen but has often shown the way to the team by leading from the front and is a confident cricketer who minces no words. Such an attitude is a prerequisite if you want to get the better of Australia as proved by India's Sourav Ganguly. Also, this Aussie team minus the greats has shown the tendency of faltering under pressure. And looking at the verbal talk (to put it mildly) that has already begun, the South Africans are definitely eager to get under the skin of the Aussies.
Unlike Australia, who are still recovering from the loss of some of their great players, South Africa have a pretty much settled squad although it wasn't tested much against the minnows Bangladesh. Since his comeback, Neil McKenzie has been as consistent as any other Test player which begs the question as to why he was sacked in the first place. But sanity has prevailed in the end and he along with the skipper Smith have formed a rather formidable opening pair. The middle-order that follows though not as flashy as India's Fab Four is also very reliable. In Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers, South Africa have four guys who can get big scores and put their team into a winning position. They have proved this over the last year in which South Africa have been very successful. And if they need further help, there is Mark Boucher – arguably the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world now that Adam Gilchrist has hung up his boots.
In the bowling department too South Africa can match the Australians. If the pitches are bouncy, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Mokel can be as deadly as Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark or probably even better than them. Spin is one department in which South Africa have been traditionally weak. And that hasn't changed as they head into the series against Australia. Left-armers Paul Harris and Robin Peterson will hardly give the Aussies any sleepless nights. But here again the home team is no better. Jason Krejza did magnificently in the one Test he played in India. However, he is still recovering from an injury. And there seems no immediate replacement in sight for the great Shane Warne, who retired more than a year ago. Having ex-Ashes winning England coach Duncan Fletcher around would be an added advantage for the visitors and Graeme Smith has already acknowledged the contribution he has made thus far.
India and South Africa are two teams who can challenge the Australian supremacy in the very near future. The Indians have already gained a few places by crushing the Aussies at home but South Africa can inch ahead in the race if they can get the better of the Australians in their own backyard. The stage is set for an absorbing battle and one hopes, with all the hype around, the series can live up to the expectations. Often in the past such battles have turned out to be dampeners. In spite of being a competitive side, South Africa struggled in Australia throughout the 90s. But while South Africa are still competitive, it is the Aussies that have become a bit fragile. And that's what the Proteas will be looking to exploit.