First Test preview: South Africa vs Australia
South Africa’s rivalry with Australia is without doubt their fiercest and the contest has become one of the most intense Test battles in the modern game.
The similarity in playing conditions has seen both sides being adept at playing against one another away from home.
While the Proteas have conducted three successive successful raids down under they have failed to record a home Test series win against their foes at home since readmission.
The two sides also play with a similar blueprint looking to blow opponents away with intense fast bowling and a dash of spin for intrigue.
As always with these two outfits both sides will fancy their chances in this series, with two batting units that have plenty of stars but not a whole lot of consistency barring the exceptional Aussie skipper Steve Smith who has been metronomic in his Test runscoring for the past two years.
The bowlers will no doubt be bringing a lot of heat looking to inspire their batsmen by getting stuck into their opposite numbers.
Australia have brought five seamers with them for this trip gambling on the Proteas pace obsession coming to the fore yet again.
The withdrawal of Jackson Bird from the Aussie squad means the teams mirror one another quite closely in squad makeup.
Chadd Sayers is a crafty swing bowler who may have a yard or to of pace on the Proteas experienced swing king Vernon Philander.
Josh Hazlewood is perhaps more accurate than the soon to retire Morne Morkel and of course there isn’t a left-arm quick in the Proteas squad to match Mitchell Starc.
Jhye Richardson is a promising young Aussie quick who will not play in Durban but young seam-bowling allrounder Wiaan Mulder may make his Test bow at Kingsmead to ensure the hosts have their own Mitchell Marsh.
Andile Phehlukwayo has been sent away to work on his batting and Chris Morris his bowling with the hosts reinforcing their batting with the in-form Theunis De Bruyn and Heinrich Klaasen who also acts as cover for Quinton de Kock behind the stumps.
South Africa should employ left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj at his home ground and hope their batsmen cope better with Nathan Lyon than they have handled spin over the last few months.
The hosts have the more proven batting lineup but they remain somewhat out of form.
Australia have confirmed that Cameron Bancroft will retain his spot in an XI unchanged from the fifth Ashes Test.
Temba Bavuma has recovered from a broken hand and played club cricket last week but it is unclear if he will return while the Proteas should welcome back AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis who were injured during the ODI series against India.
Australia were without David Warner for their warm-up against South Africa A with the hard-working vice-captain leading a rag-tag group to the Trans-Tasman Tri-Series trophy.
Warner has been struggling for runs but has always enjoyed playing in South Africa and will be a dangerous prospect.
The Proteas will hope Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram will continue their thus far fruitful partnership despite the latter having a chastening experience leading the team in the ODIs against India.
Balance will be the watch word for the hosts who will have to decide whether to play four specialist bowlers and seven batsmen, opt for the allround talents of Mulder or play five bowlers with Vernon Philander batting up at number seven.
Australia’s lower order showed their ability to eek out valuable runs in their warm-up contest after the batsmen failed to get going.
The Proteas may sport a long tail in order to accommodate as many quicks as possible after the excellent displays of Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Philander and Lungi Ngidi.
The team that is more ruthless in this contest should come out on top on a surface that could be a bit on the slow side.
We hate to draw on intangibles but Faf du Plessis brings a special quality to the team both as a leader and a batsman and how he plays often determines how the team plays.
Steve Smith is expected to shoulder the responsibility of getting big runs on this tour and you wouldn’t bet against him making a bucketful.
Vernon Philander’s ability to get stuck into the top order could come in handy for the Proteas who will want Steve Smith to face a fair amount of the new ball.
Josh Hazlewood has had Hashim Amla’s number in the past and could be the man to slice through the South Africa top order.
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (Titans, capt), Hashim Amla (Cape Cobras), Temba Bavuma (Cape Cobras), Quinton de Kock (Titans), Theunis de Bruyn (Knights), AB de Villiers (Titans), Dean Elgar (Titans), Heinrich Klaasen (Titans), Keshav Maharaj (Dolphins), Aiden Markram (Titans), Morne Morkel (Titans), Wiaan Mulder (Highveld Lions), Lungisani Ngidi (Titans), Vernon Philander (Cape Cobras), Kagiso Rabada (Highveld Lions).
Australia XI (confirmed): David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitcell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Hours of play (local time): 10.00 (08:00 GMT) start, Lunch 12.00-12.40, Tea 14.40-15.00, Close 17.00
Match days: 1-5 March 2018 (5-day match)
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena, Sundaram Ravi
TV Umpire: Chris Gaffaney
Reserve Umpire: Allahudien Paleker
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe
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