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After a complete reversal in the second Test and a week off since, South Africa and Australia will take their battle to Newlands in Cape Town for the all-important third Test of the series.
With the series locked up at one game apiece, the build-up to this third Test of the series has been dominated by the Kagiso Rabada hearing, suspension, and then overturned decision.
The fiery South African quick was originally suspended for two Tests after reaching the ICC’s demerit point limit. A subsequent hearing which took more than six hours though led to the best fast bowler in the world being cleared after his contact with Australian captain Steve Smith.
When the news originally broke of Rabada’s suspension, it was speculated Dale Steyn may have been fit to take his spot. He was eventually ruled out though, and the battle for Rabada to be able to play became one South Africa simply couldn’t afford to lose.
Alas, they didn’t and the man who already has 15 wickets in two Tests at 16.8 is allowed to play.
It’s going to add to the tension of the contest and undoubtedly, Australia will push every boundary known to mankind as they attempt to get Rabada to lose his cool one more time.
While most of the focus will be around the action of Rabada heading into the third Test, there is a bigger picture at player. The winner of this Test (should there be one) goes 2-1 in a four-Test series, which is a huge advantage.
Steve Smith’s men started the series off with a bang, winning the first Test in Durban. They made the hosts look old, fragile and unable to hang with the Aussies on a wicket which was low, slow and abrasive, favouring spin and reverse swing bowling.
With Mitchell Starc in fine form and Nathan Lyon doing a strong job, Australia had the South African order on the ropes in both innings, eventually streaking away with a convincing 118-run victory.
It was a situation flip when the sides moved to Port Elizabeth though. With conditions similar, and bordering on more sub-continental with a slower and lower wicket if anything, AB de Villiers led the way for the Proteas to level the series.
Realistically, having won the toss and elected to bat, Australia shouldn’t have found themselves on the end of a six wicket drubbing that was more convincing than it sounds.
Putting up a well below par 243 in the first innings with Rabada running through them, the hosts then made 382 with contributions all through the order supporting de Villiers. Their big problem in the first Test was a lack of runs from most of the order, so it puts the Proteas in a good way having an innings like that under their belt.
Their bowling stayed strong during the third innings of the match with the tourists again knocked over cheaply – this time for 243.
In the end, South Africa needed just 102 for victory and got there four wickets down early on the fifth day.
Given the way the two Tests have gone and how different they were (in terms of result, rather than play style), it’s hard to get a read on this series. The pitch in Cape Town is expected to have potentially a little more life in it, and certainly with Rabada playing, the South African’s may be hoping that’s the case.
Australia will again turn to Nathan Lyon to give them some sort of advantage, but the Aussies also need to have their attack firing on all cylinders and get more contributions through the middle order, particularly if they are batting first again come Thursday.
Interestingly, Cape Town hasn’t been a successful ground for South Africa. They have won just 24 of 55 Tests played at the ground, including three of ten over Australia. In saying that, two of the last three have been won by South Africa, with one of those by an innings.
Given the recent track record, they should be confident, but Steve Smith is due for a big score and could well lead Austraia all the way to victory.
Last three matches in Cape Town
2014, March 1 – 5: Australia defeat South Africa by 245 runs
2011, November 9 – 11: South Africa defeat Australia by 8 wickets
2009, March 19 – 22: South Africa won by an innings and 20 runs
Last five series
2016-17 in Australia: South Africa defeat Australia 2-1 (three-match series)
2014 in South Africa: Australia defeat South Africa 2-1 (three-match series)
2012-13 in Australia: South Africa defeat Australia 1-0 (three-match series)
2012 in South Africa: South Africa drew Australia 1-1 (two-match series)
2009 in South Africa: Australia defeat South Africa 2-1 (three-match series)
Total: South Africa 2, Australia 2, drawn 1
Total matches head-to-head: Played 96, Australia 52, South Africa 24, drawn 20
Total series head-to-head: Played 26, Australia 16, South Africa 5, drawn 5
Total matches in South Africa: Played 54, Australia 36, South Africa 8, drawn 10
Total series in South Africa: Played 14, Australia 11, South Africa 2, drawn 1
Total matches at Cape Town: Played 13, Australia 10, South Africa 3
South Africa vs all opponents at Cape Town: Played 55, South Africa 24, all other countries 20, drawn 11
Steve Smith is due for a big one
56, 38, 25, 11.
No, it’s not the winning Lotto numbers tonight. It’s the recent run of form for Australian captain Steve Smith, who is now becoming overdue for a big score.
It’s been a long time since Smith won his last match and he will be keen to turn things around in the coming weeks and months. If you scan the memory back to the Ashes, it almost seemed a surprise when he didn’t reach triple figures for many.
While it’s never going to be quite as easy playing away from home, Smith will be getting frustrated with four straight performances where he has just a single half-century to his name.
With Rabada fired up, it has every chance of sparking Smith into life with the blade, and he is more than due for a big score.
How dangerous is the Australian attack if the ball starts reversing?
There are absolutely zero certainties the pitch served up in Cape Town will be quite as ‘sub-continental’ as the last two, although it has often played slow over the years, favouring bowlers. That’s indicated in the fact that there have only been 11 draws at the ground in 55 Test matches.
Given weather and extremely good teams, having just one of five Tests end in a draw is a strong result for any ground and their staff in terms of producing what could be considered ‘good cricket wickets.’
With that being said, reverse swing is probably going to play a part, as it did heavily during both the first and second Test of this series.
Mitchell Starc is the key man when that starts happening. Stretching the memory back to Durban, he rolled through the South African order like they might as well have stayed in the sheds, while Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood chipped in well olding down an end.
The Proteas have their answer to Starc in Rabada, but Vernon Philander has appeared a little off the mark at times in this series. His first innings in Port Elizabeth was superb though, and it shows the difference he makes to the bowling effort, simply by putting pressure on and limiting runs.
Overall, Australia probably have the slightly better quick bowlers, but once it starts reverse swinging (as it inevitably will unless we get a green top.)
Morkel or Ngidi?
This is a really tough question for the Proteas to answer. According to all reports, they are considering a pair of changes for the third Test, with Morkel set to be recalled to the side, along with Temba Bavuma.
Both players are well and truly in the mix for a run, but Morkel lacks the youthful exuberance of Ngidi, who just helped his team level the series with five wickets (and a heap of consistently good bowling) across the course of the match.
Being dropped during his farewell series was a decision the selectors had to make, despite it being a tough one on Morkel who is trying to go out on a high.
The South African attack during the first Test was woeful. They had no penetration and seemingly, very little in the way of pace to trouble the Aussies. While Morkel is anything but a slow bowler, he struggled in Durban and was accordingly dropped for Port Elizabeth. Ngidi impressed on debut and it was hardly a surprise to see the young quick do the same in the second Test against the powerful Aussie side.
The selectors might be looking to bring Morkel back for a swan song, but based on the way the pair have been bowling, Ngidi should have the inside line to the final spot in the team.
How do Australia stop AB de Villiers?
The age-old question. How do you stop one of the best batsmen in the world?
There hasn’t been a batsman like de Villiers, probably since Brian Lara. De Villers has an almost perfect balance of defence and attack and has one of the most natural eyes in the game. He has no problems coming out at two for nothing and starting to try and clear the boundary with every shot.
Put simply, there are very few who would be able to replicate an innings like his 126 in Port Elizabeth. The knock came under extreme pressure from the Aussies on a pitch doing plenty and virtually put the team in a position where they couldn’t lose the match.
He will need to produce similar in the third Test, batting alongside Hashim Amla and skipper Faf du Plessis, but it’s also up to those players to stand up.
Australia’s middle order must lift
Australia’s middle order were, to put it bluntly, very poor in Port Elizabeth. In fact, there was only two half-centuries scored by Aussie batsmen throughout the match – one for David Warner and the other Usman Khawaja – and both of those could be classified top order.
The difference between the sides came in the first innings with both Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla making runs, while the Aussies fumbled and bumbled around during the lead-up to the third Test.
Backing up de Villiers, the Proteas ended up with 382 on the board, which was well above par for a team batting first, let alone one batting second and needing to set a target.
When there was such a big difference between the sides, it’s not hard to see why. Australia simply didn’t have the contributions all up and down the order, where as the Proteas did.
While they probably had the best of the batting conditions, it’s still no excuse for Australia to turn in the performance they did.
First ball: 7pm (AEDT)
Venue: Wanderers, Cape Town
TV: Live, Fox Sports
Online: Live, Foxtel app or Foxtel now
Betting: Australia $2.11, South Africa $2.550, Draw $5.85
Series so far
1st Test: Australia won by 118 runs at Kingsmead, Durban
2nd Test: South Africa won by 6 wickets at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth
3rd Test: March 22 – 26 at Newlands, Cape Town
4th Test: March 30 – April 3 at Wanderers, Johannesburg
1. Dean Elgar
2. Aiden Markam
3. Hashim Amla
4. Faf Du Plessis (c)
5. AB De Villiers
6. Theunis De Bruyn
7. Quinton De Kock (wk)
8. Vernon Philander
9. Keshav Maharaj
10. Kagiso Rabada
11. Morne Morkel
Rest of squad: Temba Bavuma, Heinrich Klaasen, Willem Mulder, Lungi Ngidi
1. David Warner (vc)
2. Cameron Bancroft
3. Usman Khawaja
4. Steve Smith (c)
5. Shaun Marsh
6. Mitchell Marsh
7. Tim Paine (wk)
8. Mitchell Starc
9. Pat Cummins
10. Josh Hazlewood
11. Nathan Lyon
Rest of squad: Peter Handscomb, Jon Holland, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers
|Start (AEDT)||Finish (AEDT)||Start (local)||Finish (local)||Duration|
|First session||7pm||9pm||10am||12 midday||Two hours|
|Lunch||9pm||9:40pm||12 midday||12:40 pm||40 minutes|
|Second session||9:40pm||11:40pm||12:40pm||2:40pm||Two hours|
|Tea||11:40pm||12 midnight||2:40pm||3pm||20 minutes|
|Third session||12 midnight||2am||3pm||5pm||Two hours|
This is going to be an enthralling Test. South Africa are going to be fired up with their big quick back on the field, and with the pitch likely to do just a little bit more, it’s hard to go past them to take the series lead.
Don’t forget, The Roar will have live coverage and highlights of every day during Australia’s tour of South Africa.