Cape Town Test has makings of a classic

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Can Davey claw back some respectability by taking on Rabada? (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    Today’s third Test in Cape Town has the makings of a classic – a deadlocked series, evenly-matched teams, the two best bowling attacks in the format, one of the world’s best cricket grounds, and a whole lot of controversy.

    As much as the hoopla about player behaviour has distracted from what has been a fantastic series so far, it has also added spice and fascination to this match at Newlands.

    With the world’s number one Test bowler, Kagiso Rabada, free to play having had his two-match ban overturned, we will get to saviour his beguiling battles with Steve Smith and David Warner, Australia’s two best batsmen and the men to whom he handed send-offs in the second Test.

    Rabada against Warner will be particularly engrossing, given the way in which the quick worked over the Australian in the second innings at Port Elizabeth.

    Warner has a good record against Rabada, who has dismissed him only twice in five Tests. But Rabada has begun to hone in on the Australian’s weakness, cramping him for room with straight, short-of-a-length deliveries.

    Combined with Rabada’s express pace and steepling bounce, these deliveries have repeatedly troubled Warner in this series, denying him the ability to free his arms and pierce the offside field.

    South Africa's Kagiso Rabada appeals

    Kagiso Rabada (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

    Meanwhile, Smith has finally had a flaw fully exposed, falling three times in four innings this series to left-arm orthodox spin.

    The captain on each occasion got into trouble by seemingly misreading the length of those spin deliveries. It will be absorbing to watch how he decides to counter the threat of the Proteas’ fine tweaker Keshav Maharaj.

    Yet it is Smith’s head-to-head with Rabada which is most alluring. The number one batsman versus the number one bowler. While Rabada hasn’t yet found a chink in the skipper’s technique, his sheer quality will test the Australian in a way no other quick on the planet can quite replicate.

    At Port Elizabeth, Rabada performed at a level few bowlers ever reach. He started this series as arguably the best paceman in the world but, if he maintains that standard over the next two Tests, he will lead South Africa to a series victory and quash any dispute as to who is the format’s supreme bowler.

    Adding to the spectacle of the third Test is the fact that it will be played at Newlands, which is not only a gorgeous ground but also consistently produces wonderful pitches. The deck has historically erred in favour of the bowlers, which is a great thing in an era blighted by a surplus of dead surfaces, particularly in Australia.

    In the same way Rabada is comfortably the biggest concern for the Australian batsmen, AB de Villiers looms large over the visitors’ attack.

    AB De Villiers vs India

    AB de Villiers (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

    It was extraordinary the ease with which the champion batsman handled such an awesome attack in the first two Tests. No one has looked that consistently supreme against Australia since Kane Williamson during New Zealand’s three-Test tour in late 2015.

    How the visitors can trouble De Villiers is anyone’s guess. They may be left to pursue their basic strategy from the first two Tests – dismiss the rest of the team.

    If the pitch is moist and the outfield lush, as they often are at Newlands, then reverse swing will be much harder to come by than in the first two Tests.

    This will place extra pressure on Australia’s quicks, who so far have done a fine job with the old ball but have at times wasted the shiny version. Aside from Pat Cummins, who was solid, all were below their best at Port Elizabeth.

    Mitchell Starc seemed to be lacking rhythm and was down on pace. Josh Hazlewood bowled well in patches but was missing the consistency which has made him a superb Test bowler. Spinner Nathan Lyon too often was flat in the trajectory of his deliveries, reducing his trademark dip, drift and bounce.

    The biggest positive on the bowling front was the confident and skilful display by all-rounder Mitch Marsh. But his bowling workload may be limited at Cape Town due to a groin strain he suffered in the second Test.

    Marsh’s biggest role, however, will be with the blade. Surprisingly, given his struggles against quality pace earlier in his career, Marsh has played Rabada as comfortably as any of the Aussies.

    Yet again the conversation circles back to Rabada. He has been the focal point all week and, for mostly different reasons, will continue to be over the next five days.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (70)

    • March 22nd 2018 @ 5:33am
      Brasstax said | March 22nd 2018 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      Good preview as usual Ronan. I think the Saffers have a slight edge in this match with their tails up after the astonishing reversal of Rabada’s suspension. However he is on thin ice and this game will be a great test for Du Plessis the captain and his control over the young quick at which he failed miserably in the last game.

      The Aussies should safeguard against harboring resentment against the reversal and carrying it into this game as it can have only one of two effects. They either attack Rabada blindly and get out or sulk and get defensive which again is a no-no.

      Also interesting to note whether the pitch will be as lively as the ones when the Indians toured because the first 2 pitches definitely have not been nearly as lively as the India vs SA series. But then the Saffers were out to seek vengeance for their 4-0 humiliation in India and deliberately prepared extremely lively pitches to beat the Indians so that might not be the case in tomorrow’s game.

      • March 22nd 2018 @ 7:05am
        Kane said | March 22nd 2018 @ 7:05am | ! Report

        Steve Smith is sulking already about the over turned verdict, it seems KG may be in the Aussie’s head’s already. The Aussie’s seem more worried about stirring up the opposition then playing cricket which is evidenced by what Smith was saying before the series about trying to get KG suspended. Try playing cricket boy’s and see how you go

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2018 @ 9:57am
          JamesH said | March 22nd 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          Sulking, pull the other one. He clearly said he’s not fussed if Rabada plays.

          Smith expressed surprise at the ban being overturned (as have many others) and his concern was for the precedent the decision sets. That’s a perfectly fair point because, up until now, physical contact was one thing the ICC had actually been strict on.

          Stop being so one-eyed. SA made comments about targeting Warner, too. Both sides are to blame for the antics we’ve seen to date.

          • March 22nd 2018 @ 10:10am
            Kane said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

            One eyed? I’m an Aussie. He was clearly having a bit of a sook about it being overturned. The Aussie’s are the biggest sledgers in world cricket and the biggest sooks when it comes back at them, they carry on like schoolyard kids half the time. It seems Warner got personal about de Kock’s mother and sister but when it come back at him he couldn’t handle it.

        • March 22nd 2018 @ 10:01am
          jameswm said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          Whatever Australia tried, it worked in the first test as they belted SA.

          And if their goal was to target Rabada, they did it pretty well, as he has escaped suspension by a bee’s you know what.

      • Roar Guru

        March 22nd 2018 @ 8:10am
        Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2018 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        The Indian pitch came out of a period of time where they actually had a fair bit of rain, in what has been a drought ravaged region. So I don’t know that it’s likely to be the same as that pitch. SA don’t want it too lively either, their batting lineup is just as prone to getting run through in a hurry in lively conditions as anyone else’s.

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2018 @ 10:02am
          spruce moose said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

          Chris, Cape Town had no rain during the India match, or even the lead up to the India match. They had 4mm on new years day, and that was the only bit of rain in a month each side.

          http://www.csag.uct.ac.za/current-seasons-rainfall-in-cape-town/

          I’m not sure where you got your information.

          Either way, it’s largely moot. Newlands has been using a bore, so they can prepare a pitch to whatever specs.

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2018 @ 1:51pm
            Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2018 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

            Sorry, I know I’d read something about that India test being rain affected. Just had a look and it’s on the article right below this on the Roar titled “Finally, we can just talk about the cricket”. It suggests there was a whole day lost to rain. But you are right in that it doesn’t mean there was any rain in the lead up that could have affected pitch preparation.

            Here is the quote from that article:

            That match against India, just two months ago, was played on a pitch that provided plenty for the pace bowlers with the game finishing on the fourth day despite day three being lost to rain – one of the few times of late the arid city has copped a drenching.

            The match scores were 286, 209, 130 and 135 with South Africa winning by 72 runs.

            • Roar Guru

              March 22nd 2018 @ 2:41pm
              spruce moose said | March 22nd 2018 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

              There we go – to be fair the chart I have is Cape Town airport which is a bit of a hike from Newlands.

    • March 22nd 2018 @ 7:28am
      Linphoma said | March 22nd 2018 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      No, no! It’s all about The Line! The Line! Headbutt it, feel it, taste it. Mmm the purity of it all for this Australian cricket team.
      Let’s not take anything away from The Line but anyone would think a game of cricket might break out.When the captains come out for the toss they’re looking down at the pitch but it’s not what you think. They are looking at lines.

    • March 22nd 2018 @ 8:14am
      Mike Dugg said | March 22nd 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Australia to be smashed all over the park. They’re not in the series mentally and will lose the last two games by a mile

      • Roar Guru

        March 22nd 2018 @ 9:04am
        biltongbek said | March 22nd 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        Based on what?

        • March 22nd 2018 @ 9:41am
          qwetzen said | March 22nd 2018 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          “Based on what?”

          History. See Aust v India 2007/8. And Oz had some actual men in that series.

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2018 @ 9:56am
            spruce moose said | March 22nd 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

            Yeah, but so did India.

            Teams were having a hard time beating India when they had Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and then Dhoni.

            I think it’s fair to say that neither batting line up tonight will be of the same calibre as that.

            • March 22nd 2018 @ 10:36am
              Brasstax said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:36am | ! Report

              Spot on Spruce Moose. Between 2002 to 2011 India had an incredible test match batting line up.

          • March 22nd 2018 @ 4:08pm
            peter chrisp said | March 22nd 2018 @ 4:08pm | ! Report

            Australia vs India way back in 2007/2008 this is now as suggested is written in the sand, & your basing the fact that our Aussie players are pretty ordinary?

      • March 22nd 2018 @ 9:59am
        jameswm said | March 22nd 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        Thanks again Mike for your typically impartial and well measured comments.

    • March 22nd 2018 @ 9:58am
      jameswm said | March 22nd 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      Sorry, I don’t agree with this: “if he maintains that standard over the next two Tests, he will lead South Africa to a series victory”.

      You have to give the Aussie batsmen some credit.

      • Roar Guru

        March 22nd 2018 @ 10:05am
        spruce moose said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        For sure. The Australian bats will make it hard for South Africa. Every wicket will need to be earned.

        But when a fast bowler takes 10+ wickets in a match, very rarely are they on the losing side.

        • March 22nd 2018 @ 11:18am
          jameswm said | March 22nd 2018 @ 11:18am | ! Report

          Bowling isn’t measured like that spruce. Some days the ball takes the edge, and some it doesn’t. Getting wickets is not an exact science.

          It’s not like saying run 9.65 and you win the Olympic 100. Put the ball on the right spot at 145 and you might still get no wickets.

          You can bowl worse and get more wickets, or bowl better and get less. Happens all the time.

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2018 @ 2:02pm
            Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2018 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

            Yes, that’s one of the frustrations of cricket. You can bowl a brilliant spell with great balls, beat the bat lots, take the edge lots of times, but any time the ball is on the stumps they just manage to get the bat down, every time they take the edge it evades the fieldsman etc. Then you finish your spell, and someone else comes on and bowls a full toss and has it bunted back to them for caught and bowled!

            Same with batting of course. One batsman gets 3 sitters dropped off him, has 5 edges just past the stumps, others pop in the air and just miss fieldsmen, and manages to get 50+, and someone else is out there hitting the ball well only for someone to take an absolute screamer of a catch on the first, tiny little mistake the batsman makes and they are out for not much.

            Cricket can feel really unjust sometimes!

            • Roar Guru

              March 22nd 2018 @ 4:17pm
              Matt H said | March 22nd 2018 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

              Story of my career right there Chris. I was terminally unlucky in virtually all matches I played! Well I can say that because there is no video.

              • Roar Guru

                March 22nd 2018 @ 5:11pm
                biltongbek said | March 22nd 2018 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

                I bowled slow left arm (social league only as I was not a talented cricketer) however I beat the bat every time, sometimes too good for an edge (even when the batsman decided to leave) sometimes a fine fine edge, and even some thick edges close to the middle of the bat, to me all of them were edges. 😉

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2018 @ 1:54pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2018 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

          That is true, but it’s ridiculously rare for a bowler to do that three tests in a row. As mentioned elsewhere, Starc was player of the match in the first test and only got 1-125 in the second. Who’s to say the same won’t happen to Rabada here!

      • Columnist

        March 22nd 2018 @ 11:10am
        Ronan O'Connell said | March 22nd 2018 @ 11:10am | ! Report

        James if Rabada bowls as well in the next 2 Tests as he did at Port Elizabeth, where he was simply unstoppable, I have little doubt SA will take this series.

        Even Warner, Australia’s 2nd-best batsman, looked powerless against what Rabada was producing in that second innings at PE.

        • March 22nd 2018 @ 11:16am
          jameswm said | March 22nd 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          Nah he wasn’t unstoppable. We played some poor shots.

          • March 22nd 2018 @ 11:35am
            Brasstax said | March 22nd 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

            If you look at all the 10 wicket and 5 wicket hauls in the history of the game, not all of them were produced by jaffers or unplayable deliveries. In fact only a very small percentage would constitute genuinely unplayable deliveries. But what you would find invariably is that the bowler bowled with discipline and beat the bat several times in between those wickets which is what Rabada did and that pressure brings about rash or poor shots.

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2018 @ 11:51am
            spruce moose said | March 22nd 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

            Agree to disagree, but we were watching different games.

            Poor shots yes, but poor shots as a result of sustained pressure.

        • Roar Guru

          March 22nd 2018 @ 2:19pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | March 22nd 2018 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

          That’s a big IF though Ronan. It’s not that common that a bowler can back up match after match demolishing batting lineups. Whether he’s just not quite getting it right, or the conditions are different and just don’t suit him as much or any number of things.

          • Roar Guru

            March 22nd 2018 @ 2:41pm
            spruce moose said | March 22nd 2018 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

            Mitchell Johnson 2013/14 Ashes managed 5 tests of awesomeness.

            • Roar Guru

              March 22nd 2018 @ 4:17pm
              Matt H said | March 22nd 2018 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

              And what a summer it was.

          • March 22nd 2018 @ 4:00pm
            ADP said | March 22nd 2018 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

            Reckon the aussies are going to be up for this one. Rabada has had so much fuss made about him it may well affect his performance…which leaves our bowling attack a bit weak imo. And if AB gets out early..

    • March 22nd 2018 @ 10:00am
      mickey of mo$man said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      good question!

    • March 22nd 2018 @ 10:24am
      Ouch said | March 22nd 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      Aussies have a good record at this ground.

      10 victories to south africa’s 4.

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