11 February 2014
The two hottest teams in test cricket, South Africa and Australia, do battle from Wednesday at SuperSport Park in Centurion, in the first of three tests. The Proteas are ranked number one in the world, while the Aussies are coming off a rampant 5-0 whitewash of England.
While South Africa have won successive series Down Under, they have not yet beaten Australia at home since the Proteas were readmitted to world cricket in 1992.
At SuperSport Park on Monday, star batsman Hashim Amla spoke about the Proteas’ home record against Australia. “There is probably some motivation, but in another aspect I don’t think we want to play too much on it,” he said.
“In the last few series that we have played against Australia, we have had success, so hopefully we can translate the success into a home series win.”
Seeking a return to form
When the teams last met at the WACA in Perth in December 2012, Amla struck a superb, man of the match-winning 196 in South Africa’s second innings to help the Proteas to a series-clinching 309 run victory. After a poor series against India, he is ranked fourth in the test batting rankings, but will be aiming to return to his established form, especially in the absence of Jacques Kallis.
AB de Villiers, meanwhile, returns to the team after being sidelined because of surgery on a hand. He, too, will look to pick up where he left off. De Villiers is currently the number one test batsman in the world.
“We have played against Australia quite a few times over the last few years and against the same bowling attack. I don’t think it will be any different for us in the way we approach this test series,” Amla said of the challenge awaiting the Proteas.
“The guys have been going about their business preparing as well as they can.”
One of the biggest changes to the South African team will not involve a new player, but a new position in the batting line-up, with Faf du Plessis taking over the important number four spot from the great Jacques Kallis.
Batting lower down the order, Du Plessis, in only 11 tests, has been superb, scoring 782 runs at an average of 60.15. Already he has played two memorable century knocks, one to save the second test against Australia the last time the teams met in Australia, and the other that almost won South Africa the first test against India earlier this year, when the Proteas were chasing a massive 458 for victory.
The question that needs to be answered is whether or not he can be an attacking force higher up the order, if attack is what is needed.
Combined what that, how will the all-round contribution of Kallis be accounted for in the bowling attack?
For Amla, the conditions will play a vital role in the outcome of the first test. “I think conditions will be the deciding factor,” Amla said. “Regardless of the conditions, every batsman tries to occupy the crease and score as many runs as possible. Both teams are quite attacking, but by the same token conditions will play a large role in deciding how the game goes forward.”