Patrick Compton reports for IOL that there will be blessed relief from all the traditional talk of tides (incoming and receding), green mambas and what the pitch will and won’t do when Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting walk out to toss at Kingsmead at 9:30 on Friday morning.
The phoney war that always precedes contests in Durban will then be replaced by the shot and shell of intense cricket action as Smith and his men attempt the difficult task of getting back into the three-match series after their 162-run defeat at the Wanderers. There has been precious little recovery time for both teams, and there have been reports that two of the Australian fast bowlers, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, have been worried by minor injuries. Skipper Ricky Ponting, while not confirming their participation today, has indicated his team will probably be unchanged.
Smith, too, has suggested the Proteas will remain the same for the fourth straight Test. His only real choice has been whether to retain left-arm spinner Paul Harris or give Albie Morkel his Test debut. The likelihood is that Harris will get the nod.
Groundsman Wilson Ngobese, who gave the green-looking pitch a trim yesterday, admitted it was a little drier and more cracked than usual. This may mean a spinner coming into his own on the last couple of days, although history is against it as the pitch usually improves as a batting surface
The real questions, from both teams’ points of view, will concern whether their players deliver. Smith has said often enough that he and his teammates were hugely disappointed by their showing at the Wanderers. They have now had a few more days to remove the rust, polish their game plans and learn to better execute their intentions. For the South Africans this will be their last chance saloon. A draw or a defeat will ensure Australia remain top of the world in Test cricket.
Smith has spoken of the need for more precision. This will mean, more than anything else, his fast bowlers bowling the right line and the right length. There is plenty of bounce in the Kingsmead pitch, but the dangers of bowling too short here are as palpable as they were in Johannesburg.
This means that Morné Morkel, in particular, as well as Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, must be right on the button from ball one to transfer pressure back on the Australian batsmen who felt the heat too infrequently in the first Test. The balance of the SA attack will be greatly improved by a fit Jacques Kallis who has recovered from his back problem and ought to be able to play a full part with the ball.
Both teams will be looking to explode into action with maximum impact this morning, with Smith hinting yesterday that he might choose to bowl first if he wins the toss.
Ponting couldn’t be anything but happy with his inexperienced team’s performance in Johannesburg, and he will be looking for more of the same in Durban. The Aussie fast bowlers gave their counterparts a lesson in discipline at the Wanderers, while the batsmen were allowed to compile a match-winning first innings total.Both captains are returning to a ground that offers them happy memories. Smith struck a sublime century against the West Indies here last season, while Ponting went one better, stroking centuries in both innings in his last match.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (w/k), Morné Morkel, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Albie Morkel
Australia (likely): Phil Hughes, Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Brad Haddin (w/k), Andrew McDonald, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus.Tweet