Sorting the men from the boys
Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of the upcoming three-test tour to Australia. It will be a shootout between two of the finest groups of pacemen on show at the moment; some very established, others still striving to perfect their art, all with gas to burn. More to the point, it will be a massive test of skill, determination and good old-fashioned guts for the top-order batsmen on each team.
Australia’s recent initiative of producing lively tracks to encourage their young quicks certainly is an interesting one. It is a stance that I am sure sits comfortably with them when playing against most teams in the test arena, but against South Africa it is an entirely different matter. Steyn, Philander and Morkel are ranked first, second and ninth respectively on the ICC bowling rankings and are the most formidable test bowling attack at the moment. That trio will already be salivating at the upcoming prospects as they collectively plot their baptisms of fire against a batting line-up that is a far cry from the stability of previous tours down under.
Traditionally the Gabba is the first test venue and that choice has always been made with an intention of unsettling the unsuspecting opposition who are not accustomed to fast, bouncy pitches. In the past this surface has been a trap for young players as the opposition batsmen scramble under a pace barrage, but more importantly the raw and inspired overseas speedsters err in length and get punished by bowling consistently short.
That will not be an error the South Africans will make as their combined experience in the bowling department will allow the use of the correct length, whilst encouraging swing at pace.
Both attacks have gasmen who can crank it up to 150kph and beyond and it won’t just be the Gabba that will provide incentive for these guys. Adelaide has shaken off its prior reputation of being a batting paradise having benefitted from a facelift, and things have now been considerably cranked up. The venue for the final test, Perth, is nearly back to its fiery, ‘take no prisoners’ best of yesteryear when Lillee and Thompson used to terrorise those who were looking down the barrel.
The early-season non-performance of incumbent offspinner Nathan Lyon may further force Australia’s hand and the probability that an all pace attack will front in Queensland come November 9th is likely. Australia will not be weakened by this strategy as they do have an abundance of pace bowlers to choose from. Pattinson and Siddle will probably lead the attack with two of Hilfenhaus, Starc and Cummins to get the nod to complete the quartet.
Make no mistake, this is going to be tough for the batsmen on both sides and the skill required to survive against this quality will need to be matched by equal measures of bravery.
The series will be decided on the ability to expose any weak links in the batting engine rooms. This examination will be unrelenting and for a month there will be nowhere to hide.