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 AFRICAMiddle Order
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
The No.1 Test ranking will go on the line in this series, as will the unofficial title of the best fast-bowling attack in the world.South Africa boasts the No.1, No.2 and No.9 ranked quicks in Test cricket. Dale Steyn is undoubtedly the best in the world at his craft, combining vicious late swing with often express pace. Those who saw his fiery spell late in the tour match against Australia A were almost left speechless, a sign the leader of South Africa’s attack is in hot form. His opening bowling partner Vernon Philander has smashed all sorts of records in his fledgling Test career. A bustling right-armer who gives the ball every opportunity to swing, he is quicker than he appears and could be a decisive figure in this series. The lanky Morne Morkel completes South Africa’s frightening pace attack, combining steepling bounce with impressive pace. He can lose his way if put under pressure, but can be unplayable when on song. Throw in the handy medium-pace of Jacques Kallis, Australia’s batsmen will get little respite this series.Peter Siddle will lead Australia’s attack, having lost plenty of weight but none of his fire in the off-season. Now a vegetarian, an in-form Siddle wants nothing to do with Australia’s proposed ‘rotation policy’ and the home side will need him if they are to be any chance of knocking off the Proteas. Siddle’s Victorian teammate James Pattinson is expected to earn his sixth Test cap, buoyed by an impressive start to the Sheffield Shield season. After having it all his own way against New Zealand and India last summer, the 22-year-old will need all of his pace and swing to unsettle South Africa’s batsmen. The reborn Ben Hilfenhaus is tipped to get the nod ahead of Mitchell Starc and will probably share the new ball. Despite a lack of first-class cricket in recent times, Hilfenhaus’s simple methodology should see him slip straight back into the Test groove. Overall Australia’s fast bowling talent is deep, but it’s not as impressive as South Africa’s.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE SOUTH AFRICASpin Bowler
The spinners are unlikely to offer more than just handy support to the impressive pace bowlers on show, but they could be very important in a series that is almost too close to call.Imran Tahir is the latest in a long line of Proteas spinners who have failed to take the world by storm since South Africa’s re-admission in 1991. The Pakistan-born leg-spinner has a more than handy googly, but offers little more in terms of wicket-taking options. Batsmen often view him as a rare opportunity to make hay against this super bowling unit, which often works in his favour.Nathan Lyon is not coming into this series with good form on his side, but he has an ally in captain Michael Clarke. The skipper is an unabashed fan of the inexperienced off-spinner and his impressive captaincy will help Lyon no end. Like Tahir, Lyon won’t be expected to dominate alongside Australia’s talented fast-bowling attack.VERDICT: TOO CLOSE TO CALLFollow @martinsmith87 on Twitter