Bulletpoints: Australia vs South Africa – Second Test
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Just the Facts: We’re previewing the second and final Test between Australia and South Africa, that will start on November 17 at the Wanderers, if it stops somewhere for long enough. Jokes aside, the pitch is pace friendly – the South Africans may very well play four fast bowlers (plus Kallis), and the Aussies might do the same (plus Watson). The series is at stake, with Australia’s best-case scenario being a win to draw the series 1-1. The Safricans will happily take a draw to win the series. I’m predicting the Aussies to come back strong after their first test thrashing, but the South African team will be tough to beat, and the crowd will be up and about.
- In the first test Australia were shot out for 47 in their second innings, their lowest innings score in over one hundred years.
- Ex-captain Ricky Ponting hasn’t made a test century for two years and hasn’t hit a fifty for twelve innings.
- After taking eight wickets on debut, South Africa’s paceman Vernon Philander is averaging 9.75 with the ball in test cricket.
- Pat Cummins, an eighteen year-old fast bowler, might make his test debut for Australia – and be their second-youngest debutant ever.
- Dave Warner has been called up from Australia to replace the injured Shaun Marsh, but Usman Khawaja will probably play instead. I’d like you to say it with me: “Uss-Man Kah-wah-jah.” Scale that pronunciation mountain and you’re ready for the big leagues.
Runsmith, Forth Innings: Graeme Smith, South Africa’s steely test captain, now holds the world record for the most runs in successful forth innings test match chases. He’s scored four centuries and over one-thousand runs in these forth innings wins. When I contacted him for comment yesterday, he grunted and spat on the ground, looking mean; it was vintage Smith, and I feel like I’m a better man for the occasion.
Outdoor Affair: People are saying that this is the worst Aussie cricket team since Allan Border’s men, and, sure, the Aussie team lacks the raw talent of McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist, but keep in mind it’s not the weakest team in the world competition by any stretch. Instead, think of it as a shoddily-constructed tent: the framing is there in Watson, Clarke and Ryan Harris, but the canvas doesn’t stretch to fit. The zip jams when you open it (Hughes), it sags in the middle (Ponting/Haddin), and it doesn’t quite close (Johnson, Lyon, and, from the look of things, the already-forgotten Copeland).
A Portrait of Pillaging Philander: This was originally going to be called ‘The Philander Problem’, because unlike a lot of Australian cricket supporters, I’m aware he’s an allrounder and can definitely mature into another Angelo Matthews – i.e. an aggressive batsman and capable bowler who saves his best performances for Australia. Teams love to beat Australia due to our long period of dominance in the world game, and the problem with success is that it can often breed players who play their best against the team they most want to beat. Vernon Philander could get there; he’s just 26, and he’s a decent batsman and a more-than-capable bowler who performed adequately in the Australia A/South Africa A/Zimbabwe tri-series earlier this year. Actually, Philander turning into another Matthews is probably the best-case scenario; he could be another Chris Cairns… Or Andrew Flintoff.
Missing Pieces: Cricket is best described as a board game. Getting the right pieces in the right places is what wins games, and based on the farcical first test, I wonder if Australia were playing the wrong one. It’s chess, not checkers. Perhaps they were playing Mouse Trap instead of Monopoly; they rolled two dice instead of three and ended up with 47. They were playing the wrong cards and got trumped. Veron Phillander pulled out the right piece, and the Jenga tower tumbled.
Haddin, Went Out: Brad Haddin is under serious pressure to retain his test spot. With Tim Paine out injured, the greatest threat to his position is Victorian keeper Matthew Wade, who is plundering runs in the Sheffield Shield. But it’s not just form going against Haddin, it’s time as well: he is now 34, which doesn’t seem that old, but in wicketkeeping and/or cat years, it’s plenty. Ian Healy was 35 when he was dropped; Rod Marsh was 37 when he retired, as was Adam Gilchrist. As a wine, Matt Wade doesn’t come close to Haddin’s vintage; but in golf, you’d take 24 over 34 any day of the week.
“He’s Gotta Be Lyon.”: Apparently there’s confusion about Nathan Lyon’s role in the Australian team; I heard that in South Africa, the general populace can’t see why he wont take Shaun Marsh’s spot up the order. Because he’s obviously a batsman. Which is the impression you get when you look at the facts: he bowled three overs for the entirety of the first test, and top-scored in Australia’s second innings. Oh, and he hit Dale Steyn for four. Better men have died trying.
Sharp Clarke: This week, we’ll leave you with this gem from Aussie skipper Michael Clarke. Ever wanted to see a pro absolutely not answer a question nope not at all not even a little? To take the edge off the scolding cliche and virulent vagueness, we’re bringing it to you as told by a series of adorable cats. It’s a direct quote; as is “good night and good luck”, on which I’ll end.
Michael Clarke on picking the best XI for the second test at the Wanderers: