Five taking points ahead of Aus v SA


With the Test series between South Africa and Australia drawing near, we're looking forward to many elements of the southern hemisphere's classic rivalry. Here are five of the more pressing questions to ponder.

With the Test series between South Africa and Australia drawing near, we're looking forward to many elements of the southern hemisphere's classic rivalry. Here are five of the more pressing questions to ponder.

<b>1. Will the # be Mighty?</b><br>One of the best parts of the Proteas' England tour was Hashim Amla's batting, particularly his 311 not out in the first Test. He was a nightmare for England's bowlers at the Oval, batting for 790 minutes and hitting 35 boundaries. He followed that up with a ton at Lord's and then some more big scores in the ODIs.

So now we have to see whether his admittedly lackluster World Twenty20, where he top-scored with 32, has been put behind him, and if his glorious cover drive will be back on display to torture Mitchell Starc and company.

Amla has toured Down Under before, in 2008, and he scored three fifties in his six innings, as well as a 47, but no centuries. So he was above average, but not astonishing. Four years of added experience could well be the difference.

<b>2. Is AB A-OK?</b><br>South Africa wicketkeeper AB de Villiers has denied that taking up the gloves has made his chronic back injury worse, but it surely hasn't helped. He defiantly said recently that he was one good knock away from people crediting the added task for his form with the bat, but when will that knock arrive?

De Villiers has been one of the busier players in recent months, picking up the added responsibility in England after Mark Boucher's retirement, trying to make sure his batting didn't suffer, and skippering the limited-overs sides.

He should be used to all that now, after a long England tour, the WT20, and a month of rest, so he will need to back his bullish words with some sterling innings. He can't keep relying on Amla, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis to score the top order runs.

He batted four times in the Tests against England and reached the 40s thrice. Not pushing on was overlooked due to the added 'keeping under odd circumstances, but it won't be forgiven as easily this time around.

<b>3. How much is enough experience?</b><br>Australia's batting line up is an odd mix of very experienced and hardly experienced at all. Ricky Ponting, provided he's fit, and Michael Hussey are the 37-year-old elder statesmen, while Matthew Wade, Ed Cowan and Rob Quiney's Baggy Green caps still have that 'new-car smell'.

All eyes will be on Punter and Mister Cricket, particularly as the former has told the Proteas fast bowlers to come at him as hard as they can if they think they can ruffle his greying feathers. And they will go hard, trying to see if those famous lightning reflexes can prevent a bouncer to the noggin.

Quiney, meanwhile, has been called up as cover for Shane Watson for the first Test, after Watto picked up a calf injury. The 30-year-old has never played for Oz in any format, but his 85 in the tour match against the Proteas convinced the selectors to chuck him into the Gabba's deep end. It will be interesting to see how Quiney goes from facing Sheffield Shield bowlers to the best pace attack in the world on the back of a single knock. No pressure.

Also feeling the pinch? Wicketkeeper Wade. He was given the lone keeping spot ahead of veteran Brad Haddin, and he'll need to show that his solitary century against the West Indies wasn't a fluke, and that his poor form since then was just down to lack of match practice.

<b>4. Will the Oz attack hold up?</b><br>Mitchell Starc has been Australia's stand-out bowler for much of this year. He's admitted to be fairly exhausted after two months of limited-overs cricket all around the world, and two bouts of gastro haven't helped him, but he's been a fighter through it all.

The paceman was the Aussies's best bowler (aside from Watson) in Sri Lanka, and was the major force that helped Sydney Sixers to the Champions League title. He'll now have a chance to bowl on wickets that really suit his pace and movement, and test himself against four of the world's top 10 batsmen.

But what of the rest of the attack? Pat Cummins is injured, and was probably not going to crack the nod anyway due to his wayward performances, so this leaves us with Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and spinner Nathan Lyons.

Hilfenhaus and Siddle are the number six and seven bowlers in the world respectively, but they haven't had a prolonged bowling spell with a red ball since April, against the Windies. Siddle has an impressive record against the Saffas in Oz, but Hilfenhaus has only played 10 games since July, all limited-overs and none overly impressive.

Watson's absence for the first Test could prove important as he has a knack of breaking partnerships, like Kallis does for the Proteas. He wasn't great against the Windies earlier in the year, but was sublime at the WT20, and the selectors will be eager to get him back in the side as soon as possible.

<b>5. Who will be number one?</b><br>South Africa are the number one Test side in the world, after their series win against England, while the Aussies are four rankings points behind in third place. Michael Clarke's side must beat Graeme Smith's men by any margin to take the top spot off them.

One cannot see this happening easily, quite frankly. The Proteas haven't lost an away series in six years, and they pride themselves on being almost unbeatable on the road, especially if they win the first Test.

As was evident in England, recovering from losing the first of a three-Test series is improbable, unless the opposition suffers a major melt-down. So if the Proteas can break their Gabba hoodoo (they've lost two of the three games they've played there, and haven't been there since re-admission) and go one up, the series should be safe.

But, as everyone keeps mentioning, the Aussies enjoy a ding-dong battle, especially when they're considered underdogs. Their side's not the best it's ever been, but as was evident in Sri Lanka when they were pretty much a laughing stock at the start, you underestimate them at your peril.

If the series is tied at 1-1 going into the third game, it's likely South African fans will brave the time difference into the early hours to see what Perth will offer because it'll be a cracker of a game.

What are you looking forward to about the SA/Aussie Test series?

<b>Lindsay du Plessis</b>