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Ponting, Proteas and pressure: Australia-South Africa Preview - Suneer Chowdhary Column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Feb 16, 2009
The first test match between Australia and South Africa may be a good week or so away, but the two chief personnel - the skippers - have already traded their customary first salvos. Rather surprisingly, the lyrics seem to have been scripted by the same lyricist, as both the skippers claim that the pressure would be on the other; for a varied set of reasons of course!

Ricky Ponting, for all the criticism that gets meted out to him, must be credited for his never-flagging morale during press conferences. There isn't too much difference in his verbals between when he has just made mincemeat of the opponents in under three days of a test match, and when his team has endeavoured to play the most defensive cricket, claimed unfair catches and gone on to capitulate like nine pins in the face of some worthy opposition. The same schoolboy grin, the same words garbled together and the same capability to not accept that the side is on the decline.

Graeme Smith's journey has been the other way around. He began as a brash, in-your-face leader, and for most times it would work. But, like many of his predecessors, he had managed to come cropper against the Aussies. Then, the IPL of 2008 happened and he played under his long standing arch-rival, Shane Warne. It wasn't so much his own success in the tournament that would have pleased him, as much as playing under Warne would have. Whether it can be put down to coincidence or no may be debateable, but what is beyond any form of debate is that Smith does owe much of his becalmed being to been led by Warne. Ever since, Smith's press conferences have been more matured, and so to say, uninteresting for the media!

From the Australian team's perspective, there are a few question marks on who could get into the playing eleven on the first day. The all-rounder's spot, that not so long ago belonged to Andrew Symonds, and was contested hotly by Shane Watson after his performance in the IPL, suddenly has a couple of new entrants for the same. Andrew McDonald can claim to be slightly more experienced than his 'adversary' Marcus North - by exactly one test match - but whether he can claim to that berth would be clearer only after Aussie's tour match at Potchefstroom.

The other question mark that needs to be found solution to is the bowling attack. In all probabilities, Australia would go in with three quickies and a spinner, unless the pitch resembles a Wimbledon court or Marcus North proves to be another Shane Warne in the making. Mitchell Johnson is the only one surety amongst the four, with Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle fighting it out for the other two quick bowlers' spot. Bryce McGain of the software-guy-turned-cricketer fame would contest the spinner's berth against Nathan Hauritz - one still wonders whatever happened to Jason Krezja - making it a selectors' nightmare to say the least. Ironically, the bunch of oft-called-jokers deserves it as much as anyone else for their lack of any foresight in the last year or so, their dilly-dallying tactics, and the manner in which some of the players like a Beau Casson have been treated.

The one department that is more settled to take on the South African bowling is the batting, but Michael Clarke's injury woes have now begun to take Tendulkaresque proportions, and his namesake Hussey's not-so-Bradmanesque run of form would have had the Aussies worried. Combine that with a debutant - Phillip Hughes - opening the inning with Simon Katich, and it could get slightly wobbly if the tourists did lose a couple of them early.

All in all, looking at the squad, one gets the sense that the Aussies could have tried their hand with an extra batsman instead of flying down two spinners on pitches like the ones they would encounter in the Proteas. While the lack of back-up in the batting could prove to be a blessing in disguise in that the probability of continuity in the line-up would be higher, the extra spinner could just muddle up the management's thinking into rotating them around again.
 
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