Australia v South Africa, first Test, Brisbane

Little mystery, much anticipation

Daniel Brettig

November 8, 2012

Comments: 84 | Text size: A | A

Match facts

November 9-13, the Gabba
Start time 1000 (0000 GMT)

Big Picture


AB de Villiers tosses the ball during practice, Brisbane, November 7, 2012
Can AB de Villiers prove his batting powers will be unaffected by a longer term role as wicketkeeper? © Getty Images
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So Australia has a dossier on the South Africa team. So what? One of the trends of 21st century international cricket is that battles between nations now contain so few elements of the unknown. It should not be forgotten that these two sides played each other over a pair of uproarious Test matches only a year ago in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the series shared 1-1. Between then and now Australian and South African players have shared dressing rooms at the IPL and the Champions League, opposed each other again at the World Twenty20 and tried to prepare as best they can for a Test series with only one warm-up fixture in most cases.

But the lack of secrets to be divulged ahead of the first Test does not detract from the prospect of another meeting between two teams to have produced some of the most memorable Test encounters of recent times. South Africa's first visit to the Gabba in 49 years offers the prospect of plenty that is hair-raising, mainly for batsmen up against six of the world's best fast bowlers, but spectators too. Graeme Smith's side is settled and well grooved, their XI set in near enough to stone from the moment their plane touched down in Sydney last week. Smith himself is fired by the desire to ensure South Africa's hold on the ICC's top spot is not as fleeting this time around as it had been in 2009.

Australia, meanwhile, seek further proof of their rejuvenation. The Test team has not played together since April, and they may be forgiven for blinking just as much as the rest of the world at the fact they have the chance to unseat South Africa from their perch atop the rankings. The fact they have a chance of doing so is the best indicator of how far the team has developed under Michael Clarke's captaincy since the 2011 tour of Sri Lanka, as over that period the team has won three series, drawn two and shown the importance of incisive bowling to cover for a top six that on paper cannot match South Africa's. Line these two sides up and the visitors look to have a clear advantage. But contests between these teams have never been decided that way.

Form guide

(Most recent first)
Australia WDWWW
South Africa WDWDW

In the spotlight

Called on to take the gloves in unfortunate circumstances in England, AB de Villiers' back grew stiffer with each match, and his batting contributions were handy rather than dominant. He has had more time to rest and prepare for taking the gloves in this series, and will be eager to prove that as wicketkeeper he can still make the kinds of scores that marked him as one of the world's best and most dangerous batsmen.

David Warner has escaped much of the scrutiny attached to his opening partner Ed Cowan, but with only one half century in his past eight innings needs to prove his hyper aggressive methods can work consistently at Test level. West Indies and England both did well against Warner earlier this year by pursuing a rigid line and length angled across him towards the slips, while the opener's tendency to get involved in verbal confrontations will also have been noted by South Africa. Shane Watson's injury leaves Warner the most senior batsman in the Australian top three.

Team news

Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon are duelling for two spots. Hilfenhaus led the attack with Peter Siddle last year but has only played one first-class match since April. Starc has been a dominant Twenty20 bowler but is still coming to grips with the red ball. Lyon has few wickets behind him entering the Test and forecast Gabba rain may keep the pitch fresh and the pace bowlers dangerous throughout. Ricky Ponting has shrugged off a hamstring niggle.

Australia (possible): 1 Ed Cowan, 2 David Warner, 3 Rob Quiney, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 James Pattinson, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus/Mitchell Starc, 11 Nathan Lyon.

South Africa's team is settled, and likely to be unchanged from the XI that defeated England at Lord's to take the series and top spot on the ICC's rankings.

South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Jacques Rudolph, 7 JP Duminy, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Imran Tahir.

Pitch and conditions

The Gabba curator Kevin Mitchell jnr. has predicted a slightly drier surface than that prepared for last year's Test against New Zealand, increasing the likelihood of a fifth day finish and the involvement of the spinners. However some cloud and rain is predicted over the next five days, and Clarke admitted on match eve he was now considering four quicks more seriously.

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa will retain top spot on the ICC Test rankings with a drawn series. Australia will claim top spot from them with a series win
  • This is South Africa's first Test match at the Gabba since 1963
  • Michael Clarke needs 55 runs to go past Neil Harvey, another fleet-footed batsman, on Australia's all-time list of Test run scorers

Quotes

"We know how good South Africa is and respect them for it but we also know we can beat them. We are confident in our ability to beat anyone, anywhere, any time if we play at our best."
Michael Clarke strikes a confident note

"We have looked at areas that we can exploit within the Australian team as they would do with us. We feel that if we can put pressure on them in certain areas then we can make some plays in those big moments, that is ultimately what the Test series is going to boil down to."
Gary Kirsten on South Africa's planning.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by syed.r.karim on (November 9, 2012, 0:17 GMT)

@Haleos: I always respect Australian selection process. First khwaja replaced by Shaun Marsh. Shaun has been given one after one opportunity but he was the poorest batsman. Now Quiney given a chance to improve his game like Shaun. khwaja selection was not gift for him like Rob Quiney . Realy khwaja deserve the opportunity instead of experimenting with Quiney.

Posted by smudgeon on (November 8, 2012, 23:41 GMT)

Gosh, I really don't get all the criticism (or indifference) of Hilf here. The guy took India - one of the world's best batting lineups - apart last summer, in an intelligent, consistent, and ruthless manner. It was a pleasure to watch a bowler with so much potential reinvent himself in such a manner. IIRC, he even took more wickets than Sid. To me, leaving ANY of Siddle, Pattinson, or Hilfenhaus out is a hard decision. Unfortunately, as much as I see huge potential in Starc, he's the guy to miss out if they pick Lyon as the fourth bowler - I'd be reluctant to mess with what has been a winning formula. Starc will get his oppotunity, and when he does he has the potential to be one of our best left-armers ever. In the meantime, Hilf, Sid, and Patto are bowling as a great pace unit, with good mix of variety, aggression, and intelligence. Good luck to them against the Saffas, this is going to be an awesome series - as always between Aus & SA!

Posted by Marcio on (November 8, 2012, 23:36 GMT)

Looks like I was wrong - Smith won and elected to bat. I must say this amazes me. The pitch must have dried out a heap since the pics I saw yesterday! Even so, I would have thought Steyn and co would have been chomping at the bit to bowl first! Just as well I'm not captaining a team at the Gabba, I suppose.

Posted by Marcio on (November 8, 2012, 23:31 GMT)

For this game, I expect the toss will decide the outcome, given the nature of the pitch and the fast bowling attacks. Basically the team batting first (i.e. the team that loses the toss) will be trying to save the game. If they get to lunch with no more than 2 wickets down, they will have a decent chance of doing that.

Posted by disco_bob on (November 8, 2012, 21:45 GMT)

@shazada1 on (November 08 2012, 10:23 AM GMT) "What's wrong with australian selection comitee"

Are you referring to the same selection committee that has taken the Oz team to the brink of regaining their number one position? Just askin'

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (November 8, 2012, 21:26 GMT)

Last 6 months form: Pattinson FC average 20, Siddle FC average high 20s, Starc ODI/T20 average low teens, Hilfenhaus ODI/T20 average high 20s, Lyon FC average mid 50s. Lyon should not be in contention on form, and if they insist on playing a spinner for the sake of playing a spinner, the worst (out of these 4) fast bowler is clearly Hilfenhaus. Starc is in the BEST form of the 4...

Posted by Beertjie on (November 8, 2012, 20:51 GMT)

"Clarke admitted on match eve he was now considering four quicks more seriously." And quite right too. This won't be a cliff hanger imho unless Oz wins it. To win it we need to keep up the pressure on the Saffa bats and 4 quicks will do it when you see that 2 will bowl short spells. Take your foot off the pedal early and it will come back to haunt you. Win the toss and send them in! Kallis will come back to Oz one last time for the World Ciup 2015, so he'll keep playing till then. Never liked the guy but now accept him as (almost) Sobers' equal.

Posted by Meety on (November 8, 2012, 20:49 GMT)

@Macca_mat on (November 08 2012, 04:59 AM GMT) - Patto to get 5 for 20 in the Saffas 1st innings!

Posted by ObjectiveCricketism on (November 8, 2012, 20:03 GMT)

What a mouth-watering series in prospect! Australia's home advantage may not be sufficient as the South Africans are a very strong outfit, fully determined to stay number one in the rankings. Let us wish both teams the best of luck and may the best team win.

Posted by bumsonseats on (November 8, 2012, 19:24 GMT)

looking at the weather forecast its more like Manchester

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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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