Attention turns to the WACA on Friday as the third and final test between Australia and South Africa gets underway.
It has been a test of endurance and fitness this series, as bowlers and batters alike have toiled in the middle for hours on end.
For the Australians, the side injury to James Pattinson is a bitter blow for both the paceman and the Australian team. After being injured last summer, Pattinson will once again sit on the sidelines for the majority of Australia’s summer campaign.
Here’s a look at the areas for both teams in which could prove vital in Perth:
Batting: Firstly on Rob Quiney. Undone by excellent South African bowling, Quiney was not able to transfer his first-class game to the test arena. Looked edgy and shuffled his feet in his pair at the Adelaide Oval. Now Shane Watson is looking fit and could return in the place of Quiney. The question will be does he (Watson) return to the top of the order, or slot back in before wicketkeeper Matthew Wade?
Ricky Ponting is also starting to raise eyebrows over form. He has not got the starts he wanted, and his dismissal to Jacques Kallis in Adelaide, feet flying, was certainly evidence that the champion is beginning to show signs of advanced wear in his career. His partners-in-crime, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke, have found some scintillating and spectacular form, Clarke having already clubbed two double centuries this series.
Ed Cowan and David Warner at the top of the order seemingly did a role reversal at Adelaide. Warner smashed a brilliant century, while Cowan had trouble against the quicks and fell relatively cheaply. I do expect them to find some form in Perth, with the possibility of a pitch that isn’t a green top. Warner absolutely loves his pull shot, and if the ball is bouncing, no doubt the square leg boundary will be seeing a lot of dents in it.
Bowling: Peter Siddle has bowled a mammoth 117 overs across the two tests. It showed in Adelaide, as he looked exhausted. But he continued to carry the mantle for the Aussies and was almost the match-winner in the dying stages at Adelaide. Despite this load, Siddle today (Wednesday) has stated to the Cricket Australia media that he is ‘fit and confident’ for the third test.
Mitchell Starc looks a certainty to replace Pattinson in the XI for Perth. The tall left-armer will bring variety into the team, and Starc is very capable of delivering wicket-taking balls and a decent amount of swing.
That leaves Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon. WACA pitches typically favour the pacemen, and if this is the case, Nathan Lyon should be omitted. That, however, brings up the point of who to replace him with?
I believe that out of the three possibilities touted as replacements (John Hastings, Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazelwood), Hastings is overall the best choice. After returning from injury, Hastings’s form in the domestic tournament has been fantastic. He is pretty handy with the bat too, scoring 80 in a recent Sheffield Shield.
On the subject of Hilfenhaus, who, like Siddle, bowled an enormous amount of overs in Adelaide, thoughts are he should be rested as well. With Shane Watson on the verge of returning, it gives the Australians an extra bowling option. However, I believe Hilfenhaus is ready for Perth if he can pull up fit after training.
14-man squad: Clarke (c), Watson (vc), Cowan, Hazlewood, Hilfenhaus, Hastings, M Hussey, Johnson, Lyon, Ponting, Siddle, Starc, Wade, Warner.
Batting: Definitely their strong point. Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and debutant Francois Du Plessis have all scored runs. And they’ve all looked very solid when doing so. Du Plessis looked very confident and focused during his 110* at Adelaide, while Amla and Kallis were once again able to show their skills with the bat, the latter carrying a suspected hamstring injury.
One thing I want to see in Perth is AB De Villiers find some form. Since taking over the wicketkeeping duties after a freak accident that occurred to Mark Boucher earlier this year, De Villiers’ average has plummeted. He has looked edgy at the crease, and not playing like the Australians have seen before. Last time the South Africans played in Perth, AB was instrumental in helping the South Africans to a record 414 in the run chase.
Bowling: This has been South Africa’s weakness in the two tests. Dale Steyn seemingly lost pace in Adelaide – aside from a blistering spell at Australia in its second innings – and has not been the destructive bowler the cricketing world knows. Morne Morkel has taken over that title, with 10 wickets for the series and looks the pick of the South African bowlers.
The Proteas sorely missed Vernon Philander at Adelaide, who pulled out at the last minute due to injury. Second test player Rory Kleinveldt did an excellent job despite not picking up a big haul of wickets.
Unfortunately, Imran Tahir, mentioned as South Africa’s spin saviour, failed miserably, notching match figures of 0-260 and was belted for numerous sixes.
So where does the bowling stand? It is a tough call. If Philander is fit, he will come in to replace Tahir at the WACA. Steyn will be looking to use the bouncy pitch to his advantage.
Prediction: Australia to win by 100 runs or more overall.