First Test preview: South Africa v Australia

Julia Harris looks ahead to the series opener at Newlands, where one of Vernon Philander or Imran Tahir are likely to make their Test debut.

There are a number of oddities when it comes to the series opener, underway at Newlands on Wednesday. It's hard not to ignore that South Africa haven't played a Test in 305 days or that they last played a November Test at Newlands in 1921.

South Africa's poor preparation has been widely documented. The Proteas camp have admitted they would have liked to have played more first-class cricket in the build-up and the Australians have been quick to remind them of how they're coming off a four-day warm-up game and a Test series against Sri Lanka.

It's hard not to feel that the South Africans will not be made to pay for this – although in fairness it is no way the fault of the management nor the players. The schedule and thirst for limited-overs cricket has dealt them an unfavourable hand.

Getting off to a strong start will be key, particularly against a team as ruthless as Australia and in the wider context of the series, with a loss in the first Test leaving just one game to salvage the series.]

South Africa usually choose to play the opening Tests of their home internationals in the interior, rather than a coastal venue such as Newlands. As a result, the weather and the pitch on offer may differ considerably from conditions that one would normally find in Cape Town.

While the pitch was covered on Tuesday, it was dry with some grass in the days before. With overhead conditions on day one likely to assist the pacemen, the spinners may have to wait until days three, four and five to come to the fore.

Michael Clarke has admitted that the only position in question regarding their starting line-up is the identity of the third seamer. Peter Siddle, Pat Cummins and Trent Copeland are the men fighting it out for the final berth.

Having played in Sri Lanka, Copeland is the man in possession of the spot but one feels that his steady rather than spectacular style may see him lose out.

While Cummins made the most of his opportunities in the limited-overs series, the experience of Siddle should see the teenager's Test debut delayed a touch.

Jacques Rudolph will return to the international fray for the first time since 2006, joining Graeme Smith at the top of the order for the hosts.

South African could potentially blood two debutants in Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir but they're unlikely to both get the nod. While Philander has been supremely impressive on the domestic scene and certainly adds to the batting strength, Lonwabo Tsotsobe should be retained as the third seamer.

Tahir, however, will make his bow. While Paul Harris took career-best figures of six for 127 when the two teams last met at Newlands, the attacking nature of Tahir is impossible to ignore.

The leg-break bowler is a genuine wicket-taker, a weapon that South Africa have not possessed since the days of Paul Adams and he adds an extra dimension to the team that they have dearly lacked in the past.

<b>Key Men</b><BR><i>South Africa:</i> The excitement surrounding <b>Imran Tahir</B> is reaching fever pitch, with even Clarke sounding excited about the prospect of seeing him in play. The leg-spinner will go for runs, he's that kind of bowler, but if he can also provide wickets in the manner does at first class-level, South Africa will be well pleased.

<i>Australia:</i> Not so much for the impact his showings will have on the team – Australia possess a strong line-up even if an early failure occurs – but more for the man himself, this Test is important for <B>Phil Hughes</B>. South Africa was the site of Hughes' debut and his finest moments, destroying the Proteas bowlers the last time the men from Down Under visited these shores. The sailing has not been smooth since but after a steady effort in Sri Lanka, the opener needs to keep on progressing along the road to recovery.

<B>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</B><BR>2009: Third Test: South Africa won by an innings and 20 runs in Cape Town<br>2009: Second Test: Australia won by 175 runs in Durban<br>2009: First Test: Australia won by 162 runs in Johannesburg<br>2009: Third Test: Australia won by 103 runs in Sydney<br>2008: Second Test: South Africa won by nine wickets in Melbourne

<b>Prediction</b><BR>Australia have the momentum, they have the game time under their belts and they possess a strong batting and bowling unit. The Proteas will be eager to begin their season strongly but the time it will take them to find their feet may just cost them the match. However, if the hosts bowl first under cloudy skies, the complexion of the game may change in their favour.

<a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Online betting</B></a> firm <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> have South Africa at 13/8 for a win in the first Test, 7/4 for the draw and Australia are at 2/1. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>cricket betting</B></a>.

<b>Probable Teams</b><BR><i>South Africa:</i> Graeme Smith, Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Imran Tahir,

<i>Australia:</i> Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Shaun Marsh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon.

<b>Dates:</b> 9-13 November<br><b>Morning session:</B> 10:30-12:30 local time (08:30-10.30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:10-15:10 local time (11:10-13.10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15.30-17.30 local time (13:30-15.30 GMT)

<b>On-field umpires:</b> Billy Doctrove and Ian Gould<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Billy Bowden<br><b>Match referee:</b> Roshan Mahanama

<B>Julia Harris at Newlands</B>