I admit winning an Ashes is more satisfying but to me a Aus vs SA test series is the best in terms of cricketing quality.
A department vs department comparison gives us a better idea about the teams’ strengths and weaknesses I think. In saying that I can’t really keep one team ahead of the other except Australia is little behind in the spin department. Team’s only spinner Nathan Lyon has shown poor form in the domestics this season. In comparison Imran Tahir played his part well in the more recent win against England. SA also have the luxury of having Robin Peterson in the squad who is great turner of the ball. Last time around at down under Duminy’s spin proved to be effective enough to claim top scalps as well. We might see Michael Clarke rolling arms for Australia in time of dire needs but his back doesn’t hold back well when he bowls.
Batting wise both teams have almost equal number of match winners. Although relatively less experienced Cowan, Warner and Wade makes it little unpredictable, the home advantage tilts the balance back on their side. There was a concern about how Ricky Ponting’s long break from international cricket affects his form after he was dropped from one day side last season. Well he has indicated that he enjoyed his break with an unbeaten 162 against a test quality Victorian bowling attack of Pattinson, McKay, Siddle and hastings. But that didn’t stop South African quicks to threaten the old man ahead of the series. It will be interesting to see how ageing Ponting, arguably one of the best hookers and pullers of the game fares against the pace, bounce and swing of Steyn, Morkel and Philander. This series will also decide whether he still got what it takes to be a part of the quest to regain the Ashes next year which he on many occasions mentioned is his sole motivation to keep going at this age. Australian batsmen's weakness again spin other than Clarke and Hussey is a matter of concern though.
South Africa’s batting never looked so assuring with the way Amla batting now. Him along with Kallis, Devilliers and frequent contributions from Smith and Duminy will test Australian bowlers stamina. They have to toil really hard to get to the tail.
What I believe will often make the difference is the tail enders’ batting. And Australia is slightly ahead in this department. All of of Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Starc, Cummins, Pattinson and Lyon can cuase sheer frustration to any bowling attack.
These are the top two fielding sides of world cricket. Expecting some breath taking dives, catches and throws from the likes of Duminy, Devilliers, Warner and Ponting.
The salivating of all is the pace attack of both teams. I can’t remember of seeing such quality fast bowlers facing each other in the recent past. Siddle and Hilfenhaus don’t stack up to be as menacing as Steyn and Morkel but it’s the surprise factor of young Starc, Pattinson and Cummins (later in the series) makes it so intriguing. I am tempted to say ‘there will be blood’.
This series will also see Kallis and Watson, two of the world’s current best all-rounders trying to prove that they worth more than the other in their respective teams.
In all counts it promises to be a tremendous series. And the fact that Aussies have expressed their intention to claim the no.1 test spot back this summer makes it more interesting. I wish there were 5 tests.
South Africa squad:
Graeme Smith (c), AB de Villiers (wk), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Jacques Rudolph, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile (wk).
Australia squad for the 1st test:
David Warner, Ed Cowan, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (capt), Michael Hussey, Matthew Wade (wk), Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon.