'Crash-test dummies' ready for world's best
Andrew McDonald, the Australia A captain, has said his batting line-up will "be sent in as crash-test dummies" against South Africa's pace attack ahead of the first Test. The South Africans are likely to field their Test XI in the three-day warm up at the SCG and McDonald does not seem to think Australia A are being tasked with softening up the opposition's bowlers, who are being talked about as the best in the world.
"It's a nice attack, isn't it? It's an attack you'd want at your disposal," McDonald said. "But the Australians have got a good attack as well this summer. So it's going to be a battle of the pace quartets or however they shape up. It's going to be a red-hot series.
"We've been sent in first as crash-test dummies. We haven't had tour games like this for a while. It's a great inclusion in the Australian summer: to have the next best side in Australia take on the side that's the best in the world. It's a great opportunity for us and a good opportunity for the South Africans to find a little bit of form. Hopefully we can put up a good contest."
McDonald's take on the practice match is markedly different to the way the South African A side saw their role exactly a year ago when they hosted Australia in Potchefstroom. They were presented with a pitch that the groundsman later apologised for - a snake pit with awkward bounce which proved difficult to bat on.
The four-day match lasted only three days and even though Australia won, the South Africans felt they had struck some telling blows by limiting the amount of time Australian batsmen had at the crease. But McDonald thinks playing those kinds of mind games are pointless because the visitors will not regard the fixture as anything more than training.
"It's just another step in their preparations," he said. "The first psychological blow will be the first session of the first Test and anything leading into that will be just be lip service. They will be looking to get a solid hit-out because it's their last competitive game before the Test match."
His approach would appear to be more traditional and in the spirit of practice games, which is the norm when teams tour. Contrastingly, South Africa A decided to be hostile last year and were quietly smirking when Australia were bowled out for 47 in the first Test in Cape Town. That may not have all been their doing, though.
Early-season pitches at Newlands (where a November Test had last been played more than 100 years ago) also had their impact and South Africa will find themselves in similar unfamiliarity. The first Test is in Brisbane and South Africa have not played a Test there since readmission. For that reason, and a few others like the lack of first-class cricket for most of the South African squad, the tour match will be a serious affair.
McDonald shares the views that, "a competitive game puts a good edge on your preparations for the series". Although his team will not be unwelcoming, McDonald gave an assurance there would be an aggressive element to the fixture. "Every game you try to win it and we're going to try to move in the direction to make sure the game gets to a result," he said.
South Africa's XI points to the same thing. In the interests of match time, they are likely to field the same team that will turn out in Brisbane next week. Jacques Kallis, their only concern, has recovered from flu and is available for selection. If he sits out, it will be only because "he has not had a break from cricket since England," Mohammed Moosajee, the team manager explained. Kallis and Morne Morkel both played in England, at the World T20 and at the Champions League and will need to be assessed before it is decided if they will play.
Australia A have only named 11 players so their team is already decided. Some of them, most notably Phillip Hughes, Steven Smith and Moises Henriques, will want to use the match as an opportunity to catch the national selectors' eyes. McDonald is another player who could seek to do that, although he is not overly optimistic about his chances.
"Playing in the A side is a step in the right direction [for a national recall]. To captain is also a nice feather in the cap," he said. "But if the Australian team is successful and they get off to a good start, there probably won't be too many spots this summer and we're hoping that's the case."
McDonald has played four Test matches, all against South Africa in 2009, and he said in the event he is reselected, he will be ready. "You want to improve every year and I am a better player than last time I stepped out in Australian colours," he said. "I'll be more prepared than I was last time, having had that little bit of experience before. I think that given the opportunity, I'd be able to take up a role there."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent