South Africa in Australia, 2012-13

Dependability versus depth in pace battle

South Africa's Test touring party to Australia contained few surprises, but it also outlined the clear contrast in how the two teams will handle their fast bowlers

Daniel Brettig

October 11, 2012

Comments: 107 | Text size: A | A

Vernon Philander leaps at dismissing Alastair Cook, England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, The Oval, 4th day, July, 22, 2012
Knowing well what his pacemen can do, Graeme Smith will not bring too many of them to Australia © AFP
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If the South African Test touring party to Australia arrived more or less as expected, it also confirmed a battle of contrasts among the fast bowlers: South African dependability versus Australian depth.

Among South Africa's travelling 15, there are only four pacemen. The uncapped bowling allrounder Rory Kleinveldt will back-up the outstanding trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, while Jacques Kallis provides his familiar versatility. The captain Graeme Smith and the coach Gary Kirsten are in no doubt what their best XI is, and far from fearful that one of their top three quicks will break down.

Australia's pace planning for the series is far more preoccupied with depth, likely to include the presence of five quicks, plus Shane Watson, in training before each match. The seasoned duo of Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus can be expected to play in all three Tests, but there will be rotation beyond them, as James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins all appear likely to get at least one match against the South Africans to spread the load among their younger bodies.

Australia's coach Mickey Arthur said that while a settled side was an advantage for South Africa, the home batsmen had the chance to make fatigue a factor in the series if they could stick out the early spells of Steyn, Morkel and Philander.

"It certainly can be a help for us, if we can get those guys back and having to bowl third and fourth spells then we're in a good position," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. "That might fatigue them just a little for the next Test match.

"They've got the three top guys, Kleinveldt and then Kallis, but they're very clear on the team they're going to play, and they're just looking at who best can slot in as a like for like replacement if any of their quicks go down."

The tall and strapping Marchant de Lange would have been favoured as South Africa's reserve, but was unable to be considered as he recovers from back stress fractures. Arthur said Kleinveldt is drawn from a similar template, offering a "bang it in" approach for hard Australian pitches, though his lack of any Test experience will mean a vexing initiation if one of the top trio does get injured.

"I think Marchant's got a little more pace, but they're obviously looking for bowlers who can really hit the deck hard, which Rory does," Arthur said.

The presence of two spinners, Imran Tahir and Robin Petersen, suggests that the tourists may use a different tweaker according to the conditions they are presented with. Petersen may be called upon to perform the kind of stopping role Paul Harris filled on the successful 2008-09 visit to Australia, particularly in Brisbane and Perth. This would leave Tahir to take up a more attacking commission in Adelaide, with a surface more given to sharp spin. Arthur could not envisage both slow men playing in the same side.

"That would really surprise me, it's not really their style," Arthur said. "They're pretty much like us, their best attack is when their quicks play, so I guess they'll use Imran Tahir as an attacking option certainly in Adelaide. I can't see them playing two though."

While Australia's selection of Test-proven fast men appears broader, Arthur acknowledged there would be considerable weight on the shoulders of both Siddle and Hilfenhaus to stay fit and in strong rhythm. They will again be asked to deliver the sorts of sustained spells that were so effective against India last summer, a requirement heightened by the early season absence of Ryan Harris due to his recovery from shoulder surgery.

"Peter's got a massive role leading our Test attack, him and Benny, they've got a massive amount of leadership work to do," Arthur said. "Peter's embraced that and he showed us last year that he could handle that."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Meety on (October 14, 2012, 22:01 GMT)

@woodybp on (October 14 2012, 17:04 PM GMT) - yes, he's recovering.

Posted by woodybp on (October 14, 2012, 17:04 GMT)

Why is nobody mentioning Ryan Harris? Is he injured again or what

Posted by Vishnu27 on (October 14, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

@Hammond: perhaps I can suggest you read the comment from RednWhiteArmy (October 13 2012, 00:38 AM GMT) & it may make some sense. No "rewrite" as you put it, just pure statistical truth. Only five Eng v. Aus test wins on home soil from 2001 to present (which fits with RednWhiteArmy's "over a decade" claim). As opposed to six Australian test wins in England in the same period. History & current form do not lie: England is not strong at home. My point being: refuting the lofty assertion that this coming Ashes are far from a foregone conclusion.

Posted by valvolux on (October 14, 2012, 7:55 GMT)

I think bowling wise all things are equal, but batting wise the Aussies are up against it. Its still the pointing, hussey and Clarke show...and ridiculously one failure from pointing and hussey and the knives will be out to drop them (even though there are less than no suitable replacements). Horses for courses could be key with the Aussie attack. Starc should play in Perth - he was swinging the ball into the right handers beautifully against India just as Mitch Johnson did against the poms. I'm not sure hilfy should play all 3...I think pattinson should....with Cummins and hilfy changing in and out. We've always had the south African batting lineup under control, the last 3 losses I can think of (twice in Australia the last time they toured and the first test in south Africa) we lost from seemingly unloseable positions. Morkel and kallis have always been cannon fodder for our bats, just need to conquer steyn or philander.

Posted by disco_bob on (October 14, 2012, 3:26 GMT)

@Marcio, dry air = no swing = myth. Check the physics of laminar flow.

Posted by disco_bob on (October 14, 2012, 3:06 GMT)

@Ramanujam Sridhar, interesting comment re hughes considering johnson's form in the same series.

Posted by   on (October 13, 2012, 21:23 GMT)

The aussie batting will hold the key, if they get in and get big scores like Clarke and Ponting in particular did against India last year then we have a contest, but I fancy the Saffas to just have too much power and too good together, Australia are building for the back to back Ashes and will use this as the best test they can get with any results a bonus

Posted by Hammond on (October 13, 2012, 14:48 GMT)

@Vishnu27- nice rewrite there- since 2001, England have one two test series to Australia one. Australia did have possibly the greatest test team of all time in two of those contests so cannot see your point?

Posted by Eskimo on (October 13, 2012, 13:20 GMT)

If AUS young bowlers perform at their best and stay injury free, AUS are to win the series. Keep in mind that they haven't been tested against proper batting. They could fail and the SA attack, which is experienced and fairly reliable, can perform at their best also and whitewash the series, though both scenario's are highly unlikely. So the prospect of an AUS whitewash can be dismissed immediately. The AUS batting will probably be their downfall though. If AUS prepare green-tops, they will definitely have the firepower to challenge the SA batting, but then the SA bowling attack will certainly run through the brittle AUS batting line-up. AUS can prepare flat tracks to aid their batsmen, but they might not dislodge SA's batting line-up and meanwhile SA's bowling still posses a threat. According to the odds, SA are to win this series by 1 or 2 tests. But the game is played on grass, not paper. Such a shame it's only 3 tests. Let's hope the squads are fit to play in time and stay fit.

Posted by Vishnu27 on (October 13, 2012, 13:07 GMT)

Fairly rich comment from RednWhiteArmy. Do you realise of the 15 tests played in England v Australia since 2001, England have ONLY won five? While drawing 4 & losing 6? Not quite Fortress England.

Posted by Beertjie on (October 13, 2012, 11:10 GMT)

Nice one @rickyvoncanterbury on (October 13 2012, 09:19 AM GMT)! @Hammond on (October 13 2012, 00:27 AM GMT), as a "neutral", you didn't read one of my posts when I doffed my cap in passing at the 2010 Ashes. I for one am a lot more confident about 2013 (Ashes) than 2012 (Saffers), because I think the opening bat selection ought to be sorted out by then as well as the situation with Punter.

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (October 13, 2012, 9:19 GMT)

@hammond So you are predicting that "other victory", that gives me great heart, the only thing that worries me is if England get smashed agian in India they will not have enough points to pass us even with an unlikley ashes victory.

Posted by Hammond on (October 13, 2012, 8:03 GMT)

@rickyvoncanterbury- yep but not for long, the ashes in England next June will sort that (unlikely eventuality) out...

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (October 13, 2012, 6:52 GMT)

@Hammond ...so does that mean if Australia wins against the Saffers, England will be third in tests.

Posted by Hammond on (October 13, 2012, 6:42 GMT)

@rickyvoncanterbury- last I looked mate England are second in tests and one in odi's. Don't see how that is a past glory. In fact England since 2004 have consistently been amongst the top teams in world cricket. Australia may actually be on the rise but at the moment they are as bog average as I've ever seen them. South Africa on the other hand can be rightly called number one after beating the previous number one convincingly at home. Aussie cricket fans better get their excuses ready, this one is going to hurt.

Posted by sunny1307 on (October 13, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

1.Cowan 2.Warner 3.Wade 4.Ponting 5 Clarke 6.Hussey 7.Watson 8.Pattison 9.Siddle 10.Hilfenhaus 11.Starc/Cummins/Harris

Posted by sunny1307 on (October 13, 2012, 6:10 GMT)

Australia will win 2-0.Australia in Gabba and WACA with a draw in Adelaide.Ponting will be the Man of the Series with scores of 129,50,168,70,72 and 29.

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (October 13, 2012, 5:22 GMT)

@rednwhitenhammond. geeze and you say Aussie supporters live on past glories. I hope you win something soon so 2010 can become the other victory.

Posted by Meety on (October 13, 2012, 4:38 GMT)

@landl47 (cont) - I am wary of Duminy, even though he really has not done much since his debut v Oz, the fact is he did well against us over here last time & IMO, his partnership with Steyn swung the whole series the Saffas way. Traditionally there is very little between the two sides, but I think Oz are improving more so than the Saffas & the last time we met it was 1 all. @Chris_P on (October 12 2012, 21:46 PM GMT) - I do compare previous series for the possibility that a player may have an affinity to a country (read Duminy maybe?), I am not overly worried by Kallis in general as he rarely takes the iniative, I was amazed how positive he was in 08/09. I have a feeling although it could be proven wrong big time - that Kallis may struggle now against genuine pace & bounce. Back when Oz were easily the best test team - I was always had this feeling the Saffas could beat us, so I certainly don't consider this to be an easy series - but I have confidence in the boys!

Posted by Meety on (October 13, 2012, 4:31 GMT)

@edgie on (October 12 2012, 11:03 AM GMT) - I will make a clarification, since I was running out of space when I made the Morkel is overrated comment. I rate Morkel as a good Test bowler, he really has only peformed moderately against the leading Test nations. So a Steyn/Morkel combo is really about Dale! @Marcio on (October 12 2012, 12:14 PM GMT) - top point regarding Phillander. He has had an awesome start to his career, but like Bresnan ( a bloke I like), their stats were/are well under their FC records & it is rare for players to outperform their FC stats. @landl47 on (October 12 2012, 17:58 PM GMT) - FYI - the jibe I made about the last England Test series was aimed at someone else. As for batsmen, I would rate Clarke ahead of Smith, I have the jury out on Petersen & traditionally Oz have enjoyed Rudolph, I also believe that IF ABD is keeping, he will struggle to have any impact & the Saffas SHOULD play the specialist keeper.

Posted by Marcio on (October 13, 2012, 3:46 GMT)

@landl47, your comparison of the openers is a little strange. Warner and Peterson's averages are the same, it's only that the later has played nearly twice as many tests. Cowan and Warner have played one season of test cricket, including the last three on treacherous wickets in the WI where no batsmen averaged much more than 30 - resulting in a drop in their averages, given they'd only played a tiny number of tests to that point. AUS has just played 7 consecutive series away (all formats), all in very difficult batting conditions. It is reasonable to assume they will perform a lot better in AUS. I certainly expect them to.

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (October 13, 2012, 0:38 GMT)

@electric_loco_WAP4 Your pretty confident for someone who's team hasnt won a series in England for over a DECADE...I dont think your in the position to make any predecitions, matey.

Posted by Hammond on (October 13, 2012, 0:27 GMT)

@electric_loco_WAP4 - congrats mate, first Aussie I've heard of on this site even MENTION the last ashes series. Most Aussies stay as far away from that topic as one would the Black Death.

Posted by bumsonseats on (October 12, 2012, 22:38 GMT)

iv never heard the expression my england used on here sounds abit Churchillian. or perhaps an aussie. great that he loves england though.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 12, 2012, 21:46 GMT)

@Meety, while sharing your enthusiasm, I am not so sure. 2 of the 3 tests will favour the quicks. Steyn aside, I think our pace options are ahead of the Boks, just, but any of these guys can step up to "top gun" status after this series. The batting will tell the story, I just wish people would cease comparing past series, if you have played cricket, you know form fluctuates & you never bat the same way every time. I mean do we really expect Clarke to repeat the huge efforts of last season? Or Amla's efforts in England to the same extent? Kallis, while having an incredible career, also has the age factor & has only ever had 1 series out of 4 here where he averaged over 50 at a time when he was in far better form. Roll on test cricket!

Posted by landl47 on (October 12, 2012, 17:58 GMT)

@Meety: I admire your confidence, but you seriously mean to say that you think other than Amla and Kallis, the Aussie batsmen are better than the South Africans? Take the openers: Cowan, age 30, 7 tests, high 74, average 29.83; Warner, age 25, 9 tests, 2 centuries, average 42.14. Put that against Petersen, age 31, 16 tests, 4 centuries, average 42.69 and Smith, age 31, 102 tests, 25 centuries, average 49.78. There's really no question as to which are the better batsmen, is there? Especially as both Smith and Petersen are coming off strong series against England while Cowan and Warner (who seems to have dropped off dramatically in every format) are coming off poor series against WI in which they each made one 50 in 6 innings. Even you admit that SA has the best three players. How can you be very confident? Hopeful, maybe, but unless you align yourself with jonesy2.... oh, I'm sorry- you did!

Posted by   on (October 12, 2012, 13:51 GMT)

Australia's problem is not fast bowling.. its getting a decent spinner who can bat... Lyon in the team makes the tail to long!

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (October 12, 2012, 13:17 GMT)

@RednWhiteArmy- Aus got the better of SA in the last series between them in SA with wins in the ODIs and T20s after drawing the tests.With the absolute pounding handed out to England by SA during the English summer(innings defeat at Oval ...and yes 600 odd for 2 decl.) ,surely Eng would do well just to avoid an even hefty beating that they are about to get at the hands of the Aussies in the massive Ashes series not that far from now.After series whitewashes and home and away defeats and their tiny little stint at no.1 getting snatched away,the biggest jolt for the Poms is just to come in the Ashes.Till then hold on to the Ashes for whatever little time remains,for time is running out...Coming to the coming Aus v SA series, Aus shouldn't have any trouble wresting the no.1 spot from SA at home after getting the better of them last year ,surely......

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (October 12, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

@Hammond Must be a highly optimistic person to expect'competitive test cricket ' when it comes to the Australian cricket summer. Don't think so that there has been any competitive test series for a long time down under.For obvious reasons ,the first half of the last decade is a prime example when 'The Invincibles ' Aus team only liked to compete with one team-The mighty Aussies,i.e themselves ....while toying with all and sundry- Perfectly good teams were dealt with the same currency as the lower ranked opponents-The Poms would know all about that though they weren't all that bad as were made to look as was the case with most other sides of that period.The last Ashes down under the Poms(Again not bad,just a decent side) just got lucky with an inexperienced,unsettled Aus team in the flux with-Possibly the weakest in decades.Since then,with 'Pup' Clarke it a much improved side-results in the past year or so that speak for themselves.The Poms haven't been so lucky though......

Posted by Marcio on (October 12, 2012, 12:14 GMT)

I'm afarid you don't know your cricket wickets, @edgie. the world is not divided into sub-continent slow/rest-of-world green'n fast. NZ and Eng have far greener wickets than AUS on average, and far more humid conditions. The air is dry in AUS - often little swing or movement off the wicket. Philander has been fortunate to play ALL his tests on the green wickets - as SA prepared extra-green tracks when AUS went there last time. That's why his test average is 11 runs a wicket lower than his domestic average - while almost all other bowlers ADD an extra 3-5 runs. It is going to correct itself sooner or later.

Posted by RaadQ on (October 12, 2012, 12:07 GMT)

This article is completely flawed. The reason the South African's don't have depth is cause they don't need it. They can bring over another 3 bowlers that could match Australia's young bowling line up, but they simply don't need to. Australia on the other hand have a bunch of erratic bowlers and their forms fluctuate from series to series and wicket to wicket. The likelihood of failure is the cause behind the "depth" of Australia's bowling. Kallis and Tahir/Peterson are there to fill in the gaps to ENSURE THAT THESE BOWLERS DON'T GET FATIGUED. For those saying that the bowling department matches South Africa's, you need to move on from the McGrath days. Australia will not produce a bowler of Steyn's calibre in the near future, while Philander was short listed for the ICC player of the year award and took the fastest test 50 wickets since the 20th century! Aussies need to wake up, expecting too much of this mediocre team means they will just be let down.

Posted by edgie on (October 12, 2012, 11:03 GMT)

@Meety , Morkel overated? Seriously now, along with Steyn they ARE the best fast ball partnership out there, no other test-playing nation comes close (Englands pair were tested and wre foudn wanting, badly!) And then you have Phillander with his line and length accuracy, and Kallis who ALWAYS takes a wicket when he bowls, you then have 4 potent fast bowlers. Saw a bit of starc in the T20 world cup, and he has ALOT to learn, has decent pace, but is not consistent. Only good bowlers Aus have are Hilfenhaus and Siddle, and they are not even in the top 5 test bowlers, with Steyn no1, and Phillander no 2. Then you have the two aussies at 6 and 7, and Morne at 9. And the Aussie battign is tooo reliant on "old" players Ponting and Hussey. The only area Aus have a upepr hand is their keeper with AB possibly unavailable due to injury, but the for the rest, SA tops Aus, mind you not by much, but you cannot deny that SA are the favourites for this test series, specially with their away record

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (October 12, 2012, 10:54 GMT)

England won 3 times by an INNINGS last time they played in australia. So surely south africa can do better than that.

Posted by Hammond on (October 12, 2012, 10:49 GMT)

I sincerely do hope that Australia offer some resistance. It will be a pretty boring summer in front of the tube if South Africa just roll over us. After the interminably long NRL season I'd like to see some competitive test cricket not just a defeat fest. Last summer was just as dreadful watching the hapless Indian test team tumble. I just have a feeling that Morkel, Steyne and Philander will go berserk. We just don't have the firepower in the middle order to make the big runs. And South Africa do, and they will be facing lesser bowlers. Australia should beware of Amla first and foremost, but there are plenty more class players to worry about. If I actually followed my own countries team I would be very very worried. But as a neutral I can say that I just hope Australia is competitive.

Posted by edgie on (October 12, 2012, 10:40 GMT)

@Marcio : non seamer-friendly pitches? Last time i checked Australia had decent, fast tracks, and not sub-continental turning pitches. And He played in New Zealand (where did very well) which I am sure is very similar to Australia. And the last series he played in England, he managed to get a 5 wikcet haul in the finaltest, and England was NOT the easiest place to play either.

Posted by Hammond on (October 12, 2012, 9:20 GMT)

@Meety- never had a warm beer, though these days I'm leaning more towards a Boags Premium as compared to a Carlton Draught. I have contemplated the stats, the main stat being since England cobbled a decent side together in 2005, it's England 3 ashes series to Australia 1. That is the stat that makes me feel all warm inside.

Posted by Moppa on (October 12, 2012, 8:48 GMT)

Big fan of Starc but I think Pattinson has just bowled himself into a Gabba Test spot alongside Siddle and Hilf (6 for today against Qld to back up his 5 for on debut against NZ at the same venue last year).

Posted by zenboomerang on (October 12, 2012, 8:11 GMT)

While the bowling squads look equal, we (Oz) have much to prove in the batting department - Saffa's have 4 in the top 10 ICC rankings to our 1, which shows where our batting has been at over the last 2 years... While we batted well against India at home the Saffa's will be a completely different proposition - also we will be playing on early season pitches (like against NZ) which will mean our batsmen will have to be near their best to compete equally...

Posted by Meety on (October 12, 2012, 7:44 GMT)

@R Sridhar - also forget to say - I hope the series doesn't go the way of the Eng v Saffa series in terms of anti-climax (or for a home team perspective either!) SHOULD be top shelf cricket if past series is anything to go by!

Posted by Meety on (October 12, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

@R Sridhar on (October 12 2012, 05:36 AM GMT) - I think Starc is a good chance for two reasons 1) IF Oz go with a 4-prong pace attack, a leftie is almost a certainty & he SHOULD be ahead of MJ, 2) IF Oz go with Lyon, a Leftie will help create rough for Lyon to aim at as the match goes on.

Posted by Meety on (October 12, 2012, 7:38 GMT)

@landl47 on (October 12 2012, 05:26 AM GMT) - despite some recent issues, I rate Lyon a much better spinner than Tahir, although ultimately the spinners probably won't have much of a say in this series.The facts of the matter given Oz's last series against the Saffas was a draw & the Pom v Eng series was a comfortable victory to the Saffas there is plenty of reasons why there would be a difference in confidence between Ozzy's like myself & jonesy2 versus Poms like yourself & OzzyHammond!

Posted by Meety on (October 12, 2012, 7:31 GMT)

@landl47 on (October 12 2012, 05:26 AM GMT) - my main contention is, that in the world of Test cricket at the moment, the difference between the top 4 sides & then even the 5th & 6th is not that great. The Saffa side is a good side in current terms, but at least this point anyway is nowhere near an all-time great side. Oz are improving, our side is stronger than last year when we drew with the Saffas, I think we will be better captained & have much more emphasis on FC experience leading into the Test series. In terms of match ups - in my view, the Saffas have the 2 best batsmen in Amla & Kallis, of the rest I rate our batsmen ahead of the other Saffas. I think we will have an advantage in the keeping (assuming AB deV plays as keeper), & I believe Wade will deliver better than Tsolly - in batting & keeping. As far as pace bowling is concerned, Steyn is the best, but I think Morkel is over rated & Phillander MAY be worked out. Our pacers are improving!

Posted by stuartk319 on (October 12, 2012, 6:43 GMT)

Both sides have very good bowling attacks. Aus batting is the worry. Cowan and Warner will need to get off to solid starts or the middle order, Clarke excepted, will be cannon fodder. Steyn steaming in, with Philander and Kallis keeping it tight, and Morkel being dangerous often enough will be a lot harder than what India served up last summer. Can't wait to see how it pans out, though.

Posted by zenboomerang on (October 12, 2012, 6:36 GMT)

@Marcio... Agree on the bowlers all being comparible between the teams - a pity Harris needed shoulder surgery & will miss this series but the youngsters have shown they have the ability to step up to Test standards - aka: Pattinsons 6-for against Qld today - think he may have booked his spot for the 1st Test...

Posted by Marcio on (October 12, 2012, 5:54 GMT)

Ah, @Hammond at his cherry pickin' best. Since test series are only played every two years, saying AUS haven't won a seris since 2006 is not that impressive. Why don't you just say England has won two of the last three series? Or that ENG have won exactly 50% of the games in all formats vs AUS beginning with and including the last Ashes series? (that's 9 of 18 games - AUS have won 8, BTW, 1 draw). And let's not go back to the 5-0 AUS Ashes victory, as that would tip the scales too far in AUS' favour, my Aussie mate. Have a warm beer on me as you contemplate the stats.

Posted by   on (October 12, 2012, 5:36 GMT)

Actually two years back when this tournament was already being talked about the gap i between the two sides was very vast. Now I am not so sure. A lot of South Africa's success has been built around Hashim Amla who is class act with an enormous appetite for runs. If Australia gets him early it would be fun . I believe that australia must definitely play Staarc in the first test itself. I remember Mitchell Johnson doing well against them a few years ago and Staarc swings the ball both ways and with so many right handers in the Proteas side, he could be lethal if on track . The Australian batting is very suspect and both Ponting and Clarke must make runs if Australia has to have a chance. I really dont see any series between these two sides being one sided as they have a history of close contests. I am not sure about the opening slot yet maybe Hughes might get another look in remembering his fantastic knocks against them in his debut series. Cant wait to watch Ramanujam Sridhar

Posted by landl47 on (October 12, 2012, 5:26 GMT)

@Meety: I'm genuinely curious- are you really 'very confident' that Australia will win this series? As an outsider, I see more problems for Australia than South Africa. That's not to say that Australia can't win, but I don't see any area where SA is weaker than Aus, and in their batting line-up they are definitely stronger. Almost everyone (except perhaps jonesy2) would agree that Steyn is the best bowler on either side; and wouldn't you concede that SA's top 4 of Smith, Petersen, Amla and Kallis looks much more solid than Australia's Cowan, Warner, Watson and Ponting? Australia might have the edge at #6 with Hussey over Rudolph or Duminy, but otherwise the rest look much the same quality. I think Starc is a great prospect, but he's young and inexperienced and that goes double for Cummins and Pattinson. Morkel and Philander match up with Hilf and Siddle and neither side has a great spinner, especially in Aus conditions. You might hope Aus win (so do I), but 'very confident'?

Posted by AidanFX on (October 12, 2012, 5:09 GMT)

Both teams have soild fast bowling squads. SA's is more proven - but the Aus attack does appear to be emerging strongly under Clarke. This is making for one of the most fascinating Test series to come upon this shore for a while.

Posted by Marcio on (October 12, 2012, 1:34 GMT)

I might add that Morkel, Hilfenhaus and Siddle's averages and strike rates for tests and first class games are quite similar. In fact Morkel has a slightly higher test bowling average, and his 1st class average is also higher than Siddle's (a little better than Hify's). So the key difference is Steyn - not that much between the others. Pattinson, Starc and Philander have not played enough games to take their stats seriously.

Posted by Marcio on (October 12, 2012, 1:25 GMT)

@nthuq "Of course "Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Pattinson don't measure against Steyn, Morkel and Philander". I must differ. Steyn is clearly the best of these bowlers, but there is little between the rest. Philander hasn't been tested on a non-green track, and his record is not that much different to Pattinson's, who is far better suited to Australian tracks with his extra height and pace. Morkel is very good, but has his ups and downs - he has been no better than Siddle over the past year. Hilfenhaus is also an excellent test bowler, based on form over the past year. And then we have Starc, who nearly always gets wickets in any format of the game. Cummins is still a work in progress, but I see now reason that he will not be a very good test bowler - probably in a year or three.

Posted by Hammond on (October 12, 2012, 1:22 GMT)

@electric_loco_WAP4- given that Australia haven't beaten England in a test series since 2006 and last time they met in an odi series were whitewashed by England I am unsure how you quantify that Australia are a better side than England. I'd worry more that South Africa are going to deal Australia a very sharp lesson over the next few months, can't wait to hear the Channel 9 commentary when the saffers roll over Australia like a goods train.

Posted by PFEL on (October 12, 2012, 1:01 GMT)

I don't think Cowan's place should be a given, since he has started the domestic season out of form and didn't really make runs when he played tests last season. While there aren't any logical selections in state cricket to replace him, there are better options. A bold selection would be to play both Haddin and Wade, one as an opener and the other at no. 7 and keeping.

Posted by   on (October 12, 2012, 0:32 GMT)

A microcosm of this series I think will be Kallis v Watson - clearly the two best seam-up allrounders in the world. Whoever performs better throughout the series will give their side an enormous advantage. Should be a great series; can't wait!

Posted by Marcio on (October 11, 2012, 23:58 GMT)

I'm looking forward to the series, and one of the great things about it is that it's difficult to predict how it will go. As pointed out, SA won't find AUS conditions that different from their own - and that's why they usually do pretty well in AUS - and the reverse with AUS in SA. I'll be interested to see how Warner goes against Steyn and Morkel. He doesn't mind pace bowling, but he needs to get at least a couple of big scores in this series to confirm his place in the team. If he does well, it will make a huge difference to AUS' chances, and if he does poorly then it will make it tough for AUS to get going - and people will start thinking about the next guy in line to open for AUS.

Posted by Meety on (October 11, 2012, 23:26 GMT)

@ Chris_P on (October 11 2012, 21:44 PM GMT) - I'm very confident Oz will win the series, but I haven't even noticed our more extreme supporters talking about whitewashes. All the rationale Ozzy punters are looking forward to what hopefully should be a great series - can't wait!

Posted by nthuq on (October 11, 2012, 22:42 GMT)

Of course Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Pattinson don't measure against Steyn, Morkel and Philander. But it's not as though these men will be fighting out amongst each other! I, personally, don't doubt our POTENTIAL to take 20 wickets every game, whether we do or not is another matter.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 11, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

@ Rouan de Villiers. I read a lot & have never heard anyone talk about whitewashes. Not sure where this is coming from, but if it gets you off, keep posting away with your imaginary readings.

Posted by Chris_P on (October 11, 2012, 21:43 GMT)

@mthi4life. Not so sure about the enemies reference, but I think I know what you mean. Both teams seem to get the best out of eachother, both play it tough & the showdown is on. The Boks shouldn't be complaining about the wickets as the Gabba & Perth are our 2 quickest.

Posted by Nerk on (October 11, 2012, 21:37 GMT)

Man for man, the South African attack is better than Australia's. Hilfenhous is no Steyn, Siddle is no Morkel. Philander is something else and Kallis is a star. Australia has a better spinner in Lyon, but Lyon seems to be going through a rough patch, and Australia has traditionally suited leggies so Tahir may finally find himself amongst the wickets. South Africa hold the trumps in batting, but only just, and really it is how Amla, Smith, Devilliers, Clarke, Warner and Hussey play that will determine this summer. Looking forward to an excellent series amongst two top class teams.And people say test cricket is dead.

Posted by Beertjie on (October 11, 2012, 21:19 GMT)

Gotta agree with you @Rouan de Villiers when you write "This isnt Australia from the the early 2000's yet you keep on boasting as though it is." If we were, we wouldn't have lost the last 2 Ashes series! More to the point, this isn't the Saffers of 2008-9; they're better! But games can't be determined by paper matching of man for man strength either. Winning they key moments, dropped catches, missing run-outs, to name just a few intangibles, assume greater significance in retrospect. Let's play!

Posted by Beertjie on (October 11, 2012, 20:46 GMT)

Agree with you mate @CricHorizon. Why speak about XI when you're actually referring to bowlers? The interesting selection is Faf du Plessis. He may replace Rudolph if they decide to let ABdV keep. But why say anything original if you can echo Arthur!

Posted by Sinhaya on (October 11, 2012, 17:25 GMT)

@IndianInnerEdge, this time Boxing Day is between Sri Lanka and Australia. South Africa refused to play Boxing Day test match in Melbourne.

Posted by 2nd_Slip on (October 11, 2012, 17:03 GMT)

Loving the fact that fans of the top 3 cricketing nations(South Africa,Eng,Aus) seem more interested in test cricket than any of the shorter formats-just wished the same would apply for administraters (5 match series between these giants would be more enthralling)..cant wait for this series to start, hope my Ausies dont roll over pathetically after such enticipation like the English did recently.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 16:52 GMT)

All these Aussie comments about whitewashing makes me laugh. I seem to remember not too long ago that the same was said by the English Media and look what happened - They were destroyed and Smith ended the 3rd running England captain's career. Man for man Australia come short against the SA team, bar Tahir who should be dropped. All Im saying is, dont count your chickens. This isnt Australia from the the early 2000's yet you keep on boasting as though it is.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 15:42 GMT)

The aussies have to play 4 pacers .Australia would need a spinner who can bat only then there is a chance for fitting in a spinner in the pace prone attack.Pattinson,hilfenhaus,siddle and Pat cummins or Mitchell starc

Posted by Front-Foot_lunge on (October 11, 2012, 14:12 GMT)

This will be a far more even and enjoyable series than the last time 'numbers 1 and 2' met in a series. My England were pathetic over the summer, sacrificed the top slot with hardly a whimper. The result, kindly put, was an embarrassment, the effects a disaster: KP excluded, Strauss resigned, and t20 ignominy to follow.

Posted by Dashgar on (October 11, 2012, 14:07 GMT)

I really hope we play a spinner. 3 quicks+Watson is enough, even at Perth. SA don't play spin brilliantly and Lyon has been known to pick up handy wickets. That said Lyon has started the shield season horridly so maybe another player like Jon Holland or Michael Beer might leapfrog him.

Posted by Valavan on (October 11, 2012, 14:04 GMT)

I think Clarke will end Smith's captaincy and arrogance this time, except Phliander, Amla, kallis and steyn, there is no much venom in SA. Clarke,Hussey,Warner, Siddle, Starc, Hilfy looks more dangerous given the conditions of play. The series can go either way if SA plays sensible and avoid choking, BUT same time, if Australia get it right, it can be a 3 - 0 whitewash over SA. It wont surprise me either. cricinfo please publish.

Posted by landl47 on (October 11, 2012, 13:43 GMT)

It should be an interesting series. This article focusses almost entirely on bowling, but the question marks on both sides are on the batting line-up. I think ABD has shown that he can't keep wicket and still bat to the same level that he usually does. However, if SA bring in a specialist keeper then their lower order becomes very long. Australia hasn't discovered any bright new batting stars to replace the 37-year olds, Ponting and Hussey, and the top 3 look very iffy. I'm sure Aus hoped that Hughes and Khawaja would have triumphant seasons in county cricket, but Hughes averaged 35 and Khawaja 34 in what (RandyOZ will tell you) is a weak county system. I honestly don't think Hilf and Siddle are going to trouble the SA stars much; Aus should take a risk and go with Cummins, Pattinson and Starc- especially Starc, who has developed very well in the last year and offers a different challenge to the batsmen. If the Aus batting can hold up, they have a chance; if not, it'll be SA.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

I think the team which top 3 batsman would perform better and can survive new ball attack would win.

Posted by stormy16 on (October 11, 2012, 12:55 GMT)

This'll be a real tester for the Aussies despite being at home, one of the few sides who can compete equally on these typed of wickets are the Saffies. Goes without saying but the key will be would Aus be able to bowl out a strong SA attack twice in a game? I reckon the SA attack can take 20 Aussie wickets in a test but not sure if the Aussie bowlers can.

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (October 11, 2012, 12:49 GMT)

@Hammond Yes mate,Truth really hurts but this SA side along with the Aussies are quite a few rungs higher in quality than this current United Kingdom(England) squad.Going by the frankly miserable (non)showings of the Poms over the past year or so even you will find it hard coming up with any new excuse to tell otherwise.And, by the way, Aus' performances in this period (esp. away) ain't that bad as you would like it,is it? Aye.Fact is only SA can claim to have a comparably good showing (away series) to the Aussies.This is not to say that thrashing a bog average and highly overrated England (Proven a number of times over this year) this last summer to end the world record shortest stint at no.1 (fluke) will rank as the best of their achievements.Says it all....really.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (October 11, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

Eagerly awaiting two top teams go head2head, bring on boxing day!. I feel the key lies in how the Aus middle order tackle the Saffer pacemen and tahir, frankly can't see cowan and warner/watson making mountain loads of runs against steyn & co...oz bowling has good depth-but will the oz selectors bring an attacking option like hauritz or even lyon instead of x doherty? if the oz middle order esp punter, hussey sr and who ever the keeper they pick- fire, aus will be good else its curtains as steyn, morkel, philander, kallis and tahir carry too much ammo amongst them. Test cricket - at last.....!!!:)

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (October 11, 2012, 12:23 GMT)

Man for man Aus and SA have little between them ,with SA probably bit more settled and stronger in batting(consistent).Bowling wise,Australia are a notch above SA with an array of supremely talented bunch of young 140-150(kph) pacemen,the best in the world among the new crop of all top teams,underlining the current depth in pace stocks of Aus(The board and backroom staff has to put in an efficient injury mgmt. and recoupment program to take preventive and remedial care of the injury prone young ones ,though)(hopefully) .As an unit(bowl), Aus are probably just about on par with SA with the experience and class of Siddle,Hilfenhaus and co (don't forget Mr.enigma MJ-Mitchell Johnson -That undoubted destructive 'potential' proven ,but unfortunately not always to the opposition lineup sadly) giving honest match to Steyn and Morkel.The spin option -The perfectly decent (much underrated) Lyon is much better(proven) than any SA have.Expect a good series-SA very good,good enuf?..3/2-0 to Aus

Posted by alikhan224 on (October 11, 2012, 12:21 GMT)

It would be one hell of a series but even then i would say 70/30 in favour of S.Africa, just because of not-so-strong australian batting line up.

Posted by Trapper439 on (October 11, 2012, 11:51 GMT)

@edgie: I really don't understand why these "I can't see their attack taking 20 wickets" comments have come into vogue over the last few years. On a proper Test pitch even a weak attack should be able to take 20 wickets in a five day match. It's more a question of whether the batsmen on both sides can make the game last five days if there's no rain. Australia has amongst the most result-oriented pitches in the world. Even in Adelaide, which is renowned as being the best Aussie pitch for batting, draws are nowhere near as common as they are in some other parts of the world.

Posted by RoJayao on (October 11, 2012, 11:49 GMT)

Australia's bowling looks good and will surprise, but the reality is the massive difference between the batting lineups. With Warner, Watson and Hussey plus Haddin still playing stupid worthless T20 at the moment, and Cowan making a fairly poor start to the summer, not to mention backups like Forrest also starting poorly, Clarke and Ponting are gonna have to make big runs. SA have probably 3 or 4 world class batsmen and a guy who murdered us last time. If Amla isn't the best batsman in the world now, he's in the top 2 or 3, and Kallis still nearby. Also just have a feeling that fanatic Steyn is saving special for Australia this time!

Posted by Bollo on (October 11, 2012, 11:21 GMT)

@hammond. Before shooting vitriol from the hip I suggest you acquaint yourself with the Australian batting order and have a good look at the test records of those you are so quick to slam as `bog average`, `inept`, and `grade cricket level`.

In 32 tests Peter Siddle has taken 117 wickets at 29 - hardly bog average by any standards. The man you suggest will be sharing the new ball (Mitch Johnson) hasn`t played test cricket for about a year and is very unlikely to appear in this series. The grade level spinner (Lyon perhaps?) has taken 42 wickets in 13 tests at 28 - doesn`t look bad in comparison to Tahir`s 26 in 10 matches at 40. As for the Watson as opener - hasn`t played there for the better part of a year. The `revolving door` that is the middle-order...Ponting, Clarke and Hussey - hardly been in and out of the team on a regular basis have they?

South Africa will start slight favourites, but to suggest they are a few rungs higher in quality is simply untrue.

Posted by jb633 on (October 11, 2012, 11:20 GMT)

Serioulsy what is going on with these 3 test series. Players are wasting their time playing in this garbage T20 champions league and the administrators are making Eng vs SA and Aus vs SA 3 test series. What is wrong with these people. We need 5 match series for the big clashes. Nothing else will suffice.

Posted by Hammond on (October 11, 2012, 11:02 GMT)

@Marcio- quite easily actually. South Africa haven't lost an away test series since 2007. They have better form away from home then at home.

Posted by Mary_786 on (October 11, 2012, 10:48 GMT)

I am not worried about Aus bowling, i think our bowling is strong, its our batting that worries me and I hope the likes of Khawaja, Maddinson and Forrest put pressure on the current batsman. Wade must come in as the keeper batsman as he is coming off a century.

Posted by Meety on (October 11, 2012, 10:47 GMT)

@sifter132 on (October 11 2012, 09:03 AM GMT) - pretty much spot on IMO - Clarke wants variety & I am HOPING that his leadership will get the best out of Lyon. @Marcio on (October 11 2012, 10:10 AM GMT) - don't worry about OzzyHammond - the Gas company cut his supply off & he has no internal heating for the cold northern summer & he is just lashing out. He's currently dreaming about Weetbix or something - LOL! Anyway - can't wait for what should be a worthy battle between the two best test teams in the world.

Posted by Sunil_Batra on (October 11, 2012, 10:46 GMT)

I think the bowlers will be Siddle, Hilfy, Pattinson with Starc and Cummins as backups. For the batting Khawaja, Forrest and Hughes will put pressure on the current batsman especially Cowan who has this series to prove himself aftre averaging 29 so far with the bat.

Posted by Marcio on (October 11, 2012, 10:16 GMT)

@edgie, "another 5-wicket haul for Philander"? This will be the first time Philander has not played on seamer friendly wickets. So it will be his first real test. I wouldn't expect him to be a big problem in Australian conditions. His best chance will be if SA gets to bowl first in Brisbane. Beyond that, and esp. if SA bowl second more often than not, he will be reduced to a medium paced stock bowler, bowling line and length to hold up an end.

Posted by Marcio on (October 11, 2012, 10:10 GMT)

@Hammond, how would you explain away the fact that your "exponentially stronger" SA team could not beat AUS in any of the T20, ODI or test series in SA not that long ago? A team which is "quite a few rungs higher" should be able to take at least one series from a visiting team, no? Have you considered the possibility that it is you who is "kiddding yourself"? You are just hurting from the fact that AUS' recent away performance vs SA was far superior to ENG's recent poor performnances at home vs the same team.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 9:48 GMT)

Now that we've got that 20/20 circus out of the way it is time for the real cricket to start. This SA side is one of the better sides to visit our shores in some time and our test side has stabilised and improved over the last 18 months. Aust will probably have their moments and push the tourists at times, but im expecting Amla and Steyns etc to pull out some thing special when it matters and the South African will probably sneak home. Can't wait though.

Posted by Heisenburg on (October 11, 2012, 9:36 GMT)

If Cowan performs this domestic season, I think it's time for Watson to bat down the order, I really don't like Watson batting at 3 like he's done previously, I wish Ponting would retire already, but it's not going to happen. Best batsmen: 1) Warner 2) Cowan 3) Ponting 4) Clarke 5) Hussey 6) Watson. If Cowan doesn't and we have somebody else steps up (Hopefully Bailey) Watson should open and Bailey should bat at 6.

Posted by spiritwithin on (October 11, 2012, 9:32 GMT)

dont see any depth in aus line up either in batting or bowling,the aus thinktank sud'nt be in any illusion after their 4-0 win against a mediocre indian side..fact is aus has no batsman of class at present and the last ashes clearly showed it and the present SA attack is even better than anderson,broad and tremlett...after the win in Eng there is no doubt who will come on top in this series

Posted by Mervo on (October 11, 2012, 9:31 GMT)

Steyn is the key on Australian wickets. He is a class act. He will in the next 5 years be replaced by Cummins.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 9:15 GMT)

where is Ryan Harris? injured again?

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 9:06 GMT)

ON THE CURRENT BASIS SOUTH AFRICA ARE WAY AHEAD OF AUSTRALIA AND ARE LOOKING FOR 2 BACK TO BACK SERIES TRUIMPH IN AUSTRALIA .I WOULD BET 2-1 OR 1-0 FAVOURING SA

Posted by sifter132 on (October 11, 2012, 9:03 GMT)

Ah yes 4 quicks...get suggested everytime... But it's crap if you can't bowl the other team out in 80 overs, for the following reasons: a) over rate - always been a problem for Aus, b) variety - if SA can bat 80 overs against 4 quicks and Clarke wants variety, he's got...Watson?, c) ability to fire up late in the innings - most quicks spend their load early, even the fit ones. If you're bowling your 5th and 6th spells they'll struggle. That's why you don't see quick bowlers bowling much in the back end of a 150+ over bowling effort. So bottom line...if it's a green top, yes, if not, then you need a spinner to provide variety and pick up the over rate.

Posted by biggyd on (October 11, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

on paper oz battling to compete, but they always get their best grit on at home in the summer. starc can be key - special - like a young mitch : )

Posted by heathrf1974 on (October 11, 2012, 8:47 GMT)

The key is not the bowling. It is the batting. There are only about 3 good batsmen for Australia whereas SA have about 5. The Aussies will need to improve their batting. Lyon will need to bowl well.

Posted by patmanqwerty on (October 11, 2012, 8:21 GMT)

I reckon Pattinson should get to appear in at least 2 tests, perhaps to give Starc and Cummins a rest from the World Cup. Siddle and Hilfenhaus should play every test. GO AUSTRALIA!

Posted by bobagorof on (October 11, 2012, 8:20 GMT)

PFEL: And what if Clarke's back isn't ok? Do we rely on Punter to roll his arm over? I'm sure the plan is for the pacers to bowl the bulk of the wickets, but not having any spin option has been Australia's downfall in the past.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 8:19 GMT)

Where is Mitchell Johnson?... said no one, ever.

Posted by MianMoosa on (October 11, 2012, 8:03 GMT)

this is going to be one cracker of a series..... both teams have very stable bowling attack,,,, but i think south africa is far more superior than aussies,,,, their fast bowlers are much experience than australians... plus their batting line up has a upper hand on opposition as well..... kallis is far good than shane watson,,,, my prediction it could be 2-1 in proteas favour

Posted by Pablo123 on (October 11, 2012, 7:52 GMT)

Can't wait for this. For me, these are the two most consistent teams in cricket over the last 20 years, so by that measure, the best two teams in cricket will be battling it out to see who is the current number 1.

Posted by mthi4life on (October 11, 2012, 7:49 GMT)

Australia is always our natural enemy and when SA and AUS meet they always bring the best from each other.Let the real no.1 Test ranking contest begin.

Posted by ozwriter on (October 11, 2012, 7:44 GMT)

what a waste of an article. firstly brettig summarises everything arthur says followed by a near identical quote from arthur. yawn. also arthur should remember he is no longer coach/selector for SA, he should focus on his own team rather than giving a detailed personal commentary of the opposition.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 7:38 GMT)

I think Aussie think tank is losing it even more. What is true for Steyn Morkel and Philander is true for Ben and Siddle. Even more so since they have 4 front liners + Kallis it is more likely that Aussies will have more injury problem. Even more so, Saffers batters are more geared to playing long innings than the Aussies.

Even more so, who ever is the third seamer will always be under pressure to perform which is never a good thing so you are planning to fail from the beginning. I would have rather gone with one contender, the one with most pace perhaps, backed him completely and maybe reconsidered after 2nd test for a change. This is more like the Pakistani or English way to plan than the Aussie way of the past.

Posted by Hammond on (October 11, 2012, 7:23 GMT)

Australian depth? Someones having a lend surely. Even if the raw young bowling attack (backed up by a grade cricket level spinner) led by the perfectly bog average Peter Siddle and backed up (probably) by the amazingly consistent Mitchell Johnson fires, then the batting is still wafer thin. The "fill in" test opener Watson partnered by one of the many technically inept young blokes from shield cricket, followed by the clunky and rusted salvage of Ricky Ponting, and then into the revolving door of the brittle Aussie middle order. If the saffers can get rid of MC & MH relatively cheaply (i.e. keep them to their test averages) then I can't see any reason why South Africa couldn't whitewash Australia this summer. They have better fast bowling, better spin option, better openers, and exponentially stronger middle order. Truth hurts, but this SA side is quite a few rungs higher in quality than this current Aussie XI. You would be kidding yourself if you thought otherwise.

Posted by PFEL on (October 11, 2012, 7:07 GMT)

Australia should just play 4 quicks. Nathan Lyon is ordinary. The best spinner in the country is about the 30th best bowler (and that's being generous). If Clarke's back is ok then he should handle any minor spin duties, and Siddle, Hilf, Pattinson, Starc, Cummins can rotate around the 4 bowling spots.

Posted by   on (October 11, 2012, 7:04 GMT)

Tahir will play every test, Petersen is only there as injury backup, same as Kleinveldt.

Posted by edgie on (October 11, 2012, 6:40 GMT)

while I aggree Australia have better resources vs SA, I don't see their attack really taking 20 wickets 3 times! And they don't have a decent spinner either, so they are really dependant on the fast stuff. Watson though is going to be key in this series. And, another 5-wicket haul for Philander on the horizon? Another highly anticipated test series blighted by the fact that there is only three tests.

Posted by Perplexed on (October 11, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

This will be a cracker of a tour - another fight for the top spot in tests!

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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