South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 7, 2012

Ponting plays down 'gap' between South Africa, Australia


In early 2009, Ricky Ponting presided over an Australian tour of South Africa when Graeme Smith's men were favourites. Australia were clinging to the No. 1 Test ranking they had held for six years, but South Africa would take it if they won the series. Ponting's side completed an impressive away-series victory and stayed at the top for a few more months, until their Ashes debacle. They haven't returned to No. 1 since. Over the next few weeks, under Michael Clarke's leadership, they can.

This time it's the South Africans who are No. 1 in the world. The top spot is theirs to lose. Again, Smith's team is the favourite ahead of this series. Their record away from home is strong, but it's extremely unusual for Australia to enter a home Test series as the underdogs. But having kept up with South Africa over the past three series - the teams are locked together 4-4 in the past four years - Ponting wants his team-mates to realise how little difference there is between the sides.

"I don't think there's anything negative at all about being an underdog going into a series," Ponting said in Brisbane ahead of the first Test. "South Africa are deservedly the No. 1 team in the world. But I think the gap between them and us is not that great. When we were No. 1 we knew we had everyone chasing us. South Africa are certainly going to know over the next few weeks that they've got a very good cricket team chasing them and trying to take that No. 1 mantle away."

When Ponting was in charge during the golden era of Australian cricket, crushing sides was their modus operandi, clean-sweeps often a formality. It has been a very different story for the South Africans, who are in their second period at No. 1, having originally reached the pinnacle in mid-2009.

The last time South Africa won consecutive Tests in a series was in Perth and Melbourne in 2008. They haven't won any two successive Tests out of their past 20, a time during which they have played New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Pakistan, India, Australia and England. By comparison, Australia have won eight of their past ten Tests, having risen from the nadir of the 2009-10 Ashes.

"I don't know what makes them tick, I don't know what makes them worried about big occasions in games," Ponting said. "All I know is that when we've played our best for long periods of time against South Africa we've managed to have a lot of success. We know what it is that makes us play our best cricket. We know what makes us achieve great results. We just have to do those things better than South Africa do for five days."

The series is being billed as a battle between two strong pace attacks, but that in itself means it is also a matter of which batting line-up handles the speed and movement the best. If AB de Villiers takes the wicketkeeping gloves, South Africa will have a long batting order, with JP Duminy likely to come in at No. 7. But Ponting does not believe they will offer any more of a threat than the Indian batsmen did last summer, when Australia took the series 4-0.

"South Africa are deservedly the No. 1 team in the world. But I think the gap between them and us is not that great. South Africa are certainly going to know over the next few weeks that they've got a very good cricket team chasing them and trying to take that No. 1 mantle away."
Ricky Ponting

"The attack that we put out last year will be very similar to what we go out with tomorrow in our conditions and conditions that we know very well," he said. "All the guys, Siddle and Pattinson especially, have got a lot of first-class cricket under their belt and have taken a lot of wickets at the start of the summer. We have to know that the way we bowled and the way we played last year was somewhere near our best and if we produce that again, it doesn't matter what batting line-up we're bowling to, we'll take 20 wickets in a Test match.

"We've got some areas for their batsmen that we're going to target. Our young quicks are dying to get out there and have a crack at some of their top-order players. You can expect some fireworks. Some of their top order can expect a lot of short balls as well, that's an area that we think we can really attack them."

Not that they will be alone in doing so. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, all in the top 10 ICC Test bowling rankings, are all perfectly capable of extracting the same bounce from the Australian pitches, especially the seam-friendly Gabba and WACA surfaces. The good news for the Australians is that they have at least handled Morkel well in the past; his 23 wickets at 38.21 against Australia is vastly inferior to his overall record.

"I think we've played him well in the past," Ponting said of Morkel. "When you're that tall and you bang the ball into the wicket you tend to get more bounce than the shorter fast bowlers do. I think that's his great weapon. We've had a look at what he's done over the last few series… if anything he's managed to bowl a little bit fuller the last few years than he did before that, which has probably enabled him to have more success."

But Morkel is just one part of a strong attack. Handling Steyn and Philander could be even tougher. If Australia can do so, they'll be well on the way to reclaiming that No. 1 position.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on November 8, 2012, 21:56 GMT

    @shix on (November 08 2012, 13:53 PM GMT) But then I suppose he's also remembering that Aus drew in SA last time so I suppose he must take some confidence from that. Again , Ponting isn't saying we'll beat SA or we are better than SA or anything but what exactly should he say? The Eng series could be the start of a dominant SA era but at the same time it could be that England's poor performances flattered them.

  • shiva on November 8, 2012, 13:53 GMT

    punter should not forget that india lost to england 4-0 before they got humiliated by the current australian team with the same result last summer. but the current SA team beat england at their home 2-0, and they came to aus as no.1 test team.

  • Harsh on November 8, 2012, 11:10 GMT

    South Africa is clearly the more talented team with a better bowling attack and batting line up but the ultimate factor is the performance on the day.The aussies may well rise to the occasion and reverse their form just as they did in the 2nd test in S.Africa last year and when they won the series in S.Africa in 2009 after having just been beaten by the same South African side at home.

    The reversals in form of top teams have bee so dramatic in recent years that morally there is no real champion test team.Remember how both India and England crashed so soon from the top of the pedestal.England looked invincible v.Australia in 2010-11 and India in 2011 but were outplayed by Pakistan in the sub-continent.India faced a 180 degree change in fortunes after reaching the top.Imagine Australia winning this series and morally claiming to be world test champions.Remember just 2 years ago England trounced them on their own soil.

  • Andrew on November 8, 2012, 10:15 GMT

    @OzzyHammond on (November 08 2012, 09:06 AM GMT) - fact is in your "golden" period they played the mighty NZ - TWICE & Pakistan TWICE in test series - then immediately got done home & away to India & grovelled to WIndies. They never played the Saffas at their pre-apartheid peak - it was an anomoly. The fact is - I said that England over the entire decade were the best team, but at times they got thrashed & they were definately not much ahead of all the other countries. Their win/loss ranking in the period you have now changed to 70 to 73 - was no better than Oz! As I said previously whilst being a fantastic team, your England side of that era - rank behind Bradman's unbeatables, the Taylor/Waugh/Ponting Ozzy era (you could argue there is 3 different teams there), the Lloyd & Richards WIndies era & the Great England side of 55 to 60 - not to mention the potentially greatest team that never was - pre-apartheid Saffas. Your team does not make the top 5.

  • John on November 8, 2012, 9:30 GMT

    @ maddy20 on (November 07 2012, 08:27 AM GMT) re man for man - Doesn't always work that way though does it? The 2 sides will be fairly similar to the 2 sides that squared off last year and that finished 1-1. Also seem to remember certain sides who "man for man" were better than their opponents coming unstuck

  • Geoffrey on November 8, 2012, 9:06 GMT

    @Meety- learn your cricket son. Even the historical ICC rankings for the era have England as number one in the 4 years between 1970- 1973. That team would rank as one of the strongest ever, and I would love to see Snow, Willis & Underwood make mincemeat of the current numpty Australian XI.

  • Andrew on November 8, 2012, 7:09 GMT

    @Ozzy Hammond on (November 08 2012, 01:53 AM GMT) - "...It was probably their strongest team ever as well..." you claim to know heaps about cricket - I suggest you have a bit more to learn as there has been plenty of analysis on the greatest teams to have played cricket & the 1970s England does NOT feature in them. England's best team was in the late 1950s, & there are 3 teams (2 from Oz, & 1 from WIndies) that were superior. So therefor the 1970s team hardly rates a mention in comparison. The idea when playing cricket is to win, the team you talk about was a relic from the 60s. I find it quite laughable that you have to cherry pick the a 3 year window to find a decent England team. In that period you talked about - I count 4 losses, & every 2nd match was a DRAW! Awe-inspiring! Also - in that period you talk about - 2 of the series were played against NZ & 2 against Pakistan. Then your boys got pantsed in back to back series home & away by India! Greatness hey?

  • Andrew on November 8, 2012, 6:49 GMT

    @Ozzy Hammond on (November 08 2012, 01:53 AM GMT) - your comment does not make sense???? I picked early 70s as there was the Saffas (assuming they would of done ok for at least a couple of years), England had a fantastic team, India had a side that - if I recall had been labelled their best ever, Oz was on the road back from the humbling in Saffaland (albeit beforehand they won in India), WIndies were slowly heading towards the Lloyds brigade, Pakistan had their share of wins too. The standard around the early 70s was very high, & due to politics (not going into the reasons), the great Saffa team never happenned & all the other teams had ups & downs. You make out over some obscure period that England had a great side - yet at the time I am talking about - they are only a year or so away from grovelling to the WIndies - who got bashed up by Oz! Over the course of the ENTIRE 70s - England were the best team, but not always - they got belted from time to time - hence EVEN an standard!!!!

  • Srinath on November 8, 2012, 2:33 GMT

    comparing the underperforming aussies against SA .. good joke.. it has been a while Aussies have been sternly tested n everybody remembers what happened when SA toured Aus last time arnd.. go SA go !!!!!!!!

  • aby on November 8, 2012, 2:09 GMT

    @front foot lunge, lol @ BCCI remark! laughed so much lol.I can almost imagine BCCI saying 'oh no, not us again, what did we do ...again ? and that too...for a aus eng series or aus sa series' with a funny worried face! hahahaha, good one! Oh how i miss the dravids,laxmans and sachins of yesteryears and how i wish for one gr8 fast bowler, just one like s.a.,aus or eng has! , we would hav been back to the top 3 at least then and just stop this goddamit decline we r going thru :( . Good luck to s.a. and aus then! , the best test series usually belongs to one of these teams involved always!,either with each other or someone else.Ok the trailers (t20) are over, and now,..LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!!

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