Second Test preview: South Africa v Australia
Australia will be looking to erase the memory of a stunning loss in the first Test when the second encounter against the Proteas gets underway on Thursday.
The saying goes that a week is a long time in the world of sport. For Australia it probably isn't long enough.
Michael Clarke's men will take the field on Thursday with last week's capitulation in the first Test still at the forefront of their minds, regardless of how hard they have tried to move on.
Perhaps the biggest question heading into the series finale is just how scarred are Michael Clarke's men? Graeme Smith was quick to point out that a side as experienced as the Australians will bounce back strongly, and the men in Baggy Greens are certainly known for their resilience and hard as nails mentality.
One man who personifies such an attitude is former skipper Ricky Ponting and the Tasmanian needs to pull out his best back-to-the-wall performance in Johannesburg. No longer with the captaincy to fall back on, Ponting is – in the minds of many – playing for his Test career. Without a hundred since January 2010, Ponting needs is prove that at 36 he still has a place in a side that is in the midst of a rebuilding phase.
Like Ponting, Mitchell Johnson is a former star on the wane and incredibly, his descent – although surely temporary – may occur in a country where he has enjoyed some of his greatest successes. Johnson's ability to swing the ball was not a factor in Cape Town but his penchant for garnering great bounce will come into play at the Wanderers and could prove to be a litmus test; if he can't perform there where will he perform?
Johnson may be joined in the front line by 18-year-old Pat Cummins, who looks set to make his Test debut. With Peter Siddle failing to make the most of his chance in Cape Town he is likely to drop out and with Trent Copeland's steady offering the only other obstacle in Cummins' way, the New South Welshman should be unleashed at the Bull Ring.
Siddle or Copeland may still get a run out alongside Cummins with Ryan Harris struggling for fitness. The injury-prone paceman is still feeling stiff after the first Test and for a man who hasn't played more than three Tests on the trot there is cause for concern.
The Australians will certainly be forced into making one change, with Shaun Marsh ruled out by a back injury. Usman Khawaja will come in at number three for Marsh, and having made an acceptable debut against Sri Lanka, Khawaja will be looking to state his claim for a permanent berth.
Conversely, the South Africans are unlikely to tinker with their winning combination. Yes, spinner Imran Tahir did not impress, but given the conditions and that it was his debut he is unlikely to be tossed aside after one poor showing.
Opener Jacques Rudolph will be hoping for a more fruitful showing this time around after his Test comeback proved a disappointment. Given that Alviro Petersen was cast aside as Graeme Smith's opening partner despite good form, Rudolph will know that there is no room for further slip ups.
The Proteas will remain wary of the fact that they don't have that much cricket under their belts. It was a point that was harped on about in the build-up to the first Test and with just two-and-a-half days of play in Cape Town they're certainly not in the groove just yet. Luckily for the hosts they seem to be in a zone where that doesn't really matter.
<i>South Africa:</i> There is perhaps no other player the South African cricket fraternity wants to see perform than <b>Imran Tahir</b>. The spinner looked below par at Newlands and will want to show that success on domestic circuits the world over can be translated into Test wickets.
<i>Australia: </i> With nearly 16 years of Test cricket to his name, <b>Ricky Ponting</b> is an institution in world cricket let alone just Australian cricket. But all good things come to an end – will Ponting's end be in Johannesburg? A gritty knock will go a long way to boosting Australia and Ponting's chances of a return to happier times.
<B>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</B><BR>2011: First Test: South Africa won by eight wickets<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
One always expects Australia to fight back; it's what they do, they never give up, they fight to the death, but that may not be enough. Too many players aren't hitting their straps and against a high-flying South African outfit that will be tough obstacle to overcome. Last week's game underlined that cricket really is a crazy game, but there will be no miracle comeback, the Proteas won't come unstuck at the Wanderers.
<i>South Africa:</i> Graeme Smith, Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir,
<i>Australia:</i> Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon.
<a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Online betting</B></a> firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> have South Africa at 13/8 for a win in the second Test, 11/8 for the draw and Australia are at 5/2. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>cricket betting</B></a>.
<b>Dates:</b> 17-21 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 Bowden and Ian Gould<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Billy Doctrove<br><b>Match referee:</b> Roshan Mahanama
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