Can Aussie top order handle South African pace?
With so much emphasis on the upcoming Ashes, one would be forgiven for failing to realise that Australia will take on South Africa in three home Tests in November.
The national team won’t travel to England until next year June. The reports we keep hearing, like that Ricky Ponting will play on until the Ashes, are made even though no-one can be sure that he will survive South Africa.
It is almost as if South Africa’s visit, and the other Test matches until then, are mere tune-ups for the all-important Ashes series.
One could understand if it were Bangladesh, or Zimbabwe, or even the West Indies that were scheduled to visit, but South Africa is a most formidable side. And considering the difficulty Australia had in disposing of West Indies recently, they should be worried about their prospects.
My thinking is that their batting unit will have a difficult time repelling a very good South African pace bowling attack.
Armed with a new ball, Dale Steyn is one of the most lethal fast bowlers that the game has ever seen. His strike rate has recently risen to 40.3 because he has not been at his destructive best. That places him fourth on the all-time list, ahead of greats like McGrath, Lillee, and Marshall.
His wickedly late away swing at the top of the innings is guaranteed to test even the best batsmen. The one thing in Australia’s favour is that her current openers are lefthanders, and he is less effective against batsmen of that variety.
Vernon Philander has had a fairytale beginning to his Test career. Indeed, only one bowler has taken to 50 wickets in fewer Test matches. Of all the fast bowlers I have seen – and I have seen McGrath and Ambrose – I would say that he bowls the most consistent line.
In a five or six over spell at the Basin Reserve, I counted only four deliveries that the batsmen did not attempt to play. He will be a handful.
As will Morne Morkel. His high pace and steep bounce is bound to cause concern, especially since he has shown signs that he might be returning to good form.
So the Australian batting line-up, which I think has real deficiencies, will not have an easy time of it this coming summer.
Both openers are vulnerable.
Apart from the pull shot Cowan is often strokeless, while Warner, despite his two hundreds, just does not seem to posses the technique of a good Test match opener.
Ponting at four has been a champion player for Australia over many years, but on the evidence of his play in the West Indies and against New Zealand and South Africa recently, he appears to be well past his best.
My guess is that Australia’s batting might come to rely too heavily on Clarke and Hussey, the latter of whom should bat at five rather than six. If the current line-up is the one that will play this summer then South Africa will fancy their chances of wiping away the top order fairly quickly, so the pressure on the middle and lower order will be tremendous.
In the West Indies they got quite a few runs from the lower order, but they cannot rely on that happening against a far superior bowling unit.
Last November the same sides shared a two-Test series in South Africa. Australia won the second test by two wickets mainly due to some good fast bowling from Patrick Cummins, who hasn’t played since due to injury.
Vital to that victory also, was a 174-run opening partnership out of an eventual score of 296 in the first innings, compiled by Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes. There was also a 122-run third-wicket partnership between Usman Khawaja and Ponting in the second innings.
If Australia is to do well in November, they will need similarly good service from the first four men in the order.