T20I series preview: South Africa v Australia


Almost seven months after their last international, South Africa have a fresh start. Tristan Holme looks ahead to their two Twenty20 clashes with Australia.

It's been almost seven months since South Africa last played an international, and a lot has happened since then. India and England have swapped places on either side of South Africa in the Test rankings, some rules have changed and most importantly the Proteas have a new coach and fresh leadership in limited overs internationals.

A fresh start is exactly what was needed after the all-too-familiar World Cup failure, and South Africa have also benefited from the healing hand of time. While only sustained success can heal the wounds that were re-opened in Dhaka in March, they're not nearly as raw as they were six months ago and the recruitment of Gary Kirsten has allowed Proteas fans to begin the season with a feeling of hope, even as the boardroom drama shows no sign of abating.

Two Twenty20s at the start of a series would not normally be seen as overly important, but the Proteas will know that maintaining a sense of goodwill is vital as the begin a new season. While they will be without two talismen, as Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis put their feet up ahead of a busy stretch of cricket, they still boast plenty of Twenty20 talent and many of the youngsters who might ordinarily be nervous have just come from playing in front of large crowds in the Champions League.

In essence this will be phase one of South Africa's preparation for next year's World Twenty20, where the younger players are given a chance to prove that they deserve to remain part of those preparations going forward. In that respect everyone should get at least one game, and it would seem sensible for Richard Levi to make his international debut on his home ground on Thursday night.

Watching Hashim Amla's captaincy will be a source of some intrigue over the course of the series, so different a human being is he to Graeme Smith. How will his charges respond to a more understated approach?

Smith has already shown, in Twenty20 matches under Johan Botha, that he can return to the rank and file without meddling, but how will he fare as a batsman now that he has also relinquished the one-day captaincy? As the most obvious target of South African wrath post-World Cup, his batting will be even more heavily under the microscope now that his place is no longer guaranteed.

Australia have not been out of action for so long, and should be buoyed by their recent success in one-day and Test series in Sri Lanka. However things didn't go quite so well in the Twenty20 series at the start of that tour, when they lost both games, and with his stock having fallen to the extent that he's no longer part of the one-day squad, Cameron White is unlikely to keep his job if things don't go well in this series. Particularly as Shane Watson, Australia's vice-captain in all formats, is waiting in the wings.

"We didn't play that well in Sri Lanka but in the same breath we weren't that far away either," he insisted on Wednesday. "The game can be taken away from you quite quickly in a T20 by an individual or a couple of players. I think we are heading in the right direction. We've got a very young squad together now and the more T20 we play the better we will be. But we definitely have to win these two games."

The pressure on the likes of White and David Hussey is offset somewhat by the players around them, with younger squad members such as Patrick Cummins, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Marsh, who should have freedom to express themselves without the fear of failure. Cummins has been a hot topic after hurrying a good few batsmen in the Champions League.

"He is an 18-year old playing his first game, and is just excited about the challenge ahead and nervous as well, which is probably a good thing," said White. "He is a really exciting talent, for someone to be only 18 and bowl as fast as he does is really exciting for this team and all the Australian teams going forward. Hopefully he is a big weapon in this series and going forward."

Australia showed in Sri Lanka that a Twenty20 series is not necessarily a marker on what will happen in the longer formats that follow, but of course when Australia and South Africa meet they rarely need greater context for the match to have meaning. For that reason these two Twenty20s, even though they're a year out from the next major tournament, promise some hard-fought and entertaining cricket.

<b>Key Men<br>South Africa:</b> India found him almost unplayable throughout their one-day series at the beginning of the year so South Africa will want <b>Morne Morkel</b> to find his lengths early in the season. Morkel took 12 wickets in five ODIs during that series and conceded less than four runs an over, and if he can hit the length which makes his extra height so awkward then he'll be difficult to get away.

<b>Australia:</b> The touring squad boasts a few matchwinners but none so potent as <b>David Warner</b>, who comes into the series on the back of two consecutive T20 tons in the Champions League. Conditions will be very different to the ones he mastered in India, but South Africa will remember what happened when they let Warner get away on his T20I debut in 2009 and will know how crucial his wicket is to Australia's fortunes.

<b>Head-To-Head Results</b><br>March 2009: South Africa won by 17 runs at Centurion<br>March 2009: South Africa won by four wickets at the Wanderers<br>January 2009: Australia won by six wickets in Brisbane<br>January 2009: Australia won by 52 runs in Melbourne<br>February 2006: South Africa won by two runs at the Wanderers

<b>Prediction</b><br>After six matches neither side has won a Twenty20 international against the other on foreign turf, but Australia look strong enough to pounce on South African rustiness and change that pattern. One game apiece seems the likeliest scoreline.

<b>Squads<br>South Africa:</b> Hashim Amla (capt), Johan Botha, JP Duminy, Colin Ingram, Heino Kuhn (wk), Richard Levi, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Graeme Smith, Rusty Theron, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

<b>Australia:</b> Cameron White (capt), Shane Watson (vice-capt), Doug Bollinger, Patrick Cummins, Aaron Finch, David Hussey, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Stephen O'Keefe, James Pattinson, Steven Smith, Matthew Wade, David Warner.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First T20I: Cape Town, 13 October<br>Second T20I: Johannesburg, 16 October

<b>Tristan Holme</b>