Yahoo!7 Sport's Martin Smith takes a look at how Australia and South Africa match-up ahead of the first Test.Openers
While the batting line-ups of the two teams are chocked full of talent, both are at their weakest at the top of the order.
The obvious exception in this quartet is Graeme Smith, a veteran of 102 Tests who has 25 Test centuries to his name. Smith’s career has had more ups and downs than the proverbial roller-coaster, but an average of just under 50 underlines his class. His partner Alviro Petersen is a steady and consistent opener who showed what he is capable of with a magnificent 182 against England earlier this year. With South Africa’s batting order as deep as it is talented, Australia’s quicks will look to take advantage of his inexperience at Test level.
David Warner was an uncapped T20 specialist this time last year but he has made an impressive start to his Test career. He hasn’t played much first-class cricket of late and is sure to be tested by the swing and seam of Steyn and Philander. Ed Cowan is under immense pressure heading into this match, with his Test average of under 30 sure to be happy reading for South Africa’s quicks. With one batsman sure to give way when Shane Watson returns, Cowan may only have one match to prove his worth.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE SOUTH AFRICATop Order
The old and new of Australia’s batting line-up go head-to-head against the No.2 and No.4 ranked batsmen in the world.
Hashim Amla is a batting superstar, combining rock solid defence with some piercing drives on both sides of the wicket. He rarely hits the ball in the air and as his triple-century against England showed, he likes to bat and bat for a long time. Jacques Kallis is a genuine great of the game; 43 Test centuries and an average of just under 57 is proof of that. Even when you put his 280 Test wickets aside for just one moment, Kallis is up there with Ponting, Lara and Tendulkar as one of modern cricket’s most prolific batsman.
Rob Quiney is the right man at the right time, with his polished knock of 85 for Australia A the perfect lead-up to his Test debut. Somewhat of a journeyman who has batted almost everywhere in the top six for Victoria, the left-hander has a chance to stamp his name as the 'best of the rest' when it comes to Australia’s batsmen. Quiney’s nerves on debut will no doubt be calmed by the presence of Ricky Ponting at the other end. Ponting’s legacy is beyond doubt heading into his 18th Australian summer of Test cricket and he looms as the home side’s most important batsman in this series. He’s in form and is keener than ever to prove the doubters wrong.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE SOUTH AFRICA
Two of Australia’s most accomplished batsmen go head-to-head with arguably South Africa’s weakest batting duo.
Jacques Rudolph has had a stop-start Test career, batting in every position in South Africa’s order during his 46 Tests. A steady left-hander who likes to bat time, he has made just one Test century since 2005. Rudolph’s middle-order partner JP Duminy is another who has enjoyed the highs and lows of Test cricket. After bursting onto the scene in Australia four years ago, Duminy was dropped early in 2010 and only regained his spot at the start of this year. He has averaged over 90 in four Tests since his recall.
Michael Clarke will undoubtedly be the prized wicket for the Proteas in this series, especially after his brilliant summer last year. Clarke has averaged almost 60 since taking over as skipper and will be expected to carry most of the batting workload this summer. If Australia’s top order can get a bright start, Clarke and Michael Hussey should be able to make the Proteas pay. Hussey was almost dropped last summer but responded with some impressive performances against India and West Indies. A class batsman who bats well with the lower order.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE AUSTRALIAWicketkeeper
South Africa’s advantage in this department may go a long way to deciding this series.
AB de Villiers will bat at No.5 for the Proteas, a position he has held for the bulk of his 77-Test career. The 28-year-old’s workload has increased dramatically since taking over the ‘keeping duties and it’s too early to tell if this will significantly blunt his batting prowess. His fitness will be critical to South Africa’s chances in this series.
Matthew Wade has been given a vote of confidence as Australia’s next long-term wicketkeeper, but will have to impress quickly with Tim Paine and possibly Brad Haddin still in the frame. His debut Test century against West Indies – made in difficult conditions and with the match in the balance – gave a promising insight to his temperament. But he is simply no match for De Villiers.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE SOUTH AFRICAFast Bowlers
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE SOUTH AFRICASpin Bowler
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