Cricket: Australia v South Africa: time to test the mettle


Dale Steyn has to be a threat come November (picture: Google)

Dale Steyn has to be a threat come November (picture: Google)

Raise your hand if you’re excited for the summer of cricket to hit the shores of Australia.

If you did, then the first visitors won’t disappoint; the ever talented South Africa.

Three Twenty20s and five One-Day matches means no long form test matches, but Dale Steyn will come prepared.  So will Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.

The upcoming series holds more significance than tours of the last few years, given the World Cup is fast approaching at the tail end of the summer.  While the upcoming series between Pakistan and Australia in the United Arab Emirates will allow players a “warm-up”, it’s back home that the true preparations start.

According to recent news on Cricket Australia, Michael Clarke & Dale Steyn still have a lingering fire between them.  The Cape Town test in March of this year involved an on-field verbal stoush, which six months later, Steyn has said Clarke has not apologised for.

Whatever the outcome of that situation, the series must be used as key planning and game time, given the structure of the 2014/2015 summer.  Last time the Proteas were here, a three match test series resulted in a one-nil series victory to the South Africans.

On that occasion, Faf du Plessis scored perhaps one of the most resilient centuries seen on Australian soil in Adelaide, and the home side looked inconsistent.  Morne Morkel was another who wreaked havoc with 14 wickets.

Coach Darren Lehmann, ahead of the series in the UAE, has backed Clarke and Mitchell Johnson to contribute to the team next week.  After being withdrawn from the current Champions League Twenty20, Lehmann said last week that there was “no chance” he would miss being on the plane.

“He’ll be fine to go. Expect him to play the one-dayers, obviously not the T20 but the one-dayers and the Test series.

“We’re lucky enough that in terms of the prep, he did a fair bit of bowling before (getting injured), so it won’t be an issue.”

Almost half the regular squad is out injured, putting an even bigger onus on having players ready for November.  Critically, it’s the batting that might concern more fans than the bowling.

On top of that, selectors have to be asking if Shane Watson is ready to around again.  A swathe of injuries continues to derail the all-rounders career; some have suggested he should retire from at least one form of the game.

There’s David Warner in the mix too, Phil Hughes, Clarke, and even add Mitch Marsh into the mix.  The pitches are going to offer up bounce and pace, and the pressure to perform now means runs on the board and wickets taken will help secure a coveted spot for the World Cup.

As always, there are the fringe players trying to break into the squad.  Perhaps the biggest catch is the three-month gap of either domestic or international one-day cricket that sits between the South Africa series and the World Cup.

Western Australian all-rounder Nathan Coulter-Nile is in this exact jam; and in his words the scheduling dilemma makes securing a spot much harder than usual.

“It would be nice to get a few one-day matches throughout the year.

“But obviously if you’re going to get picked (for the World Cup), then you have to perform and these are the games you have to do it in.

“As far as importance goes, it’s for players like me who are on the fringe of selection because you don’t get picked out of anything else.”

South Africa is just the start; and the UAE series will have to be a lead-in to the only short-form cricket of the summer.  It should be simple, don’t perform, don’t be selected.

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