C'mon summer.....Oz awaits
The early-season echo of ball on willow reverberating around sun-drenched stadiums provides sufficient reason to speculate about the upcoming international season. “Has it even stopped?” I hear you asking. You have good reason to wonder.
It has been a tough, long run for some core South Africans but that is what they do and now is not the time to question the schedule. Such is their professionalism, they won't. In a matter of weeks they will be on the silver budgie again headed towards the old enemy. There is always something invigorating about a clash with Oz in any sporting code but this time Greame Smith's proud men arrive as 'numero uno'.
The Australian squad, coached by Mickey Arthur, which adds an intriguing dimension in itself, will be hell-bent on settling some scores. They will, however, not be able to do so from a previously enjoyed position of strength as a somewhat unsettled group stare down this challenge. They will also be engaging the three home tests with one eye on the upcoming mid-year Ashes series and a few will be glancing over their shoulders as some berths are up for grabs. Some of the senior stalwarts will also be aware they are under scrutiny as age nearly always invites conjecture.
Can Australia afford to head to the 'old dart' with a couple of batsmen in their mid-thirties? The answer is a steadfast yes -- providing Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey are performing. They, and in particular Ponting, have been extraordinary players for Australia but Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will have both of them in their sights and that will be as demanding as it gets these days. If they succeed against that company they will have passed a severe test and deserve to pack their bags, but should they be casualties then a solid team core will be fractured.
Another element that will add considerable spice and impact to the outcome of this series is the initiative that Australia have embarked upon at home regarding the preparation of their pitches. These days they look to ‘juice up’ the tracks to provide more consistent pace and bounce to incentivise their speed merchants. If they adopt this brave enterprise the personnel on show will produce a stimulating shootout between the ‘quicks’ and the top order batsmen on both teams.
The South Africans will be fired up. Smith, as a typically determined leader, will be champing at the bit with his batteries recharged and if his team can repeat their sublime exhibition of the winter months there will be no looking back. Throw in the hurt that all who were in Sri Lanka experienced and the result is a potent, resolute unit with skill sets to burn.
Australia are not the team they used to be but they are embarking on a path to renaissance and their recent win record of eight victories out of their last ten tests is impressive. Arthur, with his intricate knowledge of the opposition, will be of significant benefit but we already know one thing about the Australians. They will scrap, they will fight and they will not admit defeat. Whatever they miss out on in raw talent will be made up in determination.
Again this series will come down to identifying key moments and winning them. Smith's charges were so dominant in England during the test series by doing exactly that with their calm and assertive demeanour.
What a series it again promises to be. It was combative in South Africa last summer. It was riveting the previous time in Australia. It was enthralling before that in SA….
It always is.