South Africa in Australia, 2005-06 December 3, 2005

South Africa to target Australia's top order

Cricinfo staff

Graeme Smith believes South Africa has the firepower to trouble Australia's top order ... © Getty Images

The battle of words has begun ahead of South Africa's three-Test tour of Australia. Graeme Smith, the South African captain, has said that his new-ball bowlers have marked Australia's top three batsmen in the coming series, and believes that they can put Australia under immense pressure.

"Australia's top three batsmen are their strength, so being able to knock them over is important," Smith told Independent, a South African daily. "That exposes their middle order, which has experienced pressure in domestic cricket but maybe not in Tests [as much]. If we get things right, we will be putting Adam Gilchrist under pressure at No.7 too."

Looking at conditions in Australia - especially in Perth, venue for the first Test beginning December 16 - Smith hoped that his bowlers would find the swing needed to trouble Australia's top order. "The new ball will become very important," he said. "If there's swing, it creates hassles for them. In the World XI game and in England (in the Ashes), as soon as it swung, things started to happen."

Perth is known to favor fast bowlers, and Smith pointed to the good form of his bowlers in discussing South Africa's prospects for a winning start. "We've got options going now. Charl Langeveldt's skills are incredible right now, and you have the hustle and bustle of Andre Nel, [who] hit his straps in the last game in India and his pace was great. And then you know what Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock are capable of." Pollock consistently hit the 132 kmh mark in South Africa's recent one-day series in India, and his success there may have done enough in quelling doubts about his ability to perform with the new ball.

Smith was diplomatic when touching on the subject, once again preferring to talk about his options. "The whole attack knows that the guy who takes the new ball is the one best suited to the [prevailing] conditions," he said. "If there's seam [movement], it will be Polly, if there's pace maybe Nella, and if there's swing maybe Langeveldt. We need to see the conditions and it depends on how we feel we can knock over their top order."

Expectedly, Smith touched upon Australia's Ashes loss earlier this year: "I definitely think Australia are beatable," he said. "England's win has given everybody around the world a bit more hope. For us, the challenge is to beat them in their backyard. That's massive, and we are looking forward to it."

He was, however, keen to talk about the "brave" cricket that South Africa have played in recent months, maintaining that this would show through in the Tests. "The selection of Justin Kemp at No.6 in itself is a step forward for us. His natural game is to score quickly and he can take the game away from the opposition. It's awesome to have someone like him in our armoury. We are looking for an injection, and hopefully his selection pays off."

Regarding the expected verbal onslaught from Australia, Smith said South Africa had prepared well for any sledging. "We've had sessions with a consultant [on this issue] and he will be with us for two weeks in Perth helping us plot where we are going. We've discussed sledging. The guys might be disappointed if it doesn't happen." In his debut series in 2001-02, Smith famously blew the lid on Australia's sledging in an interview, providing a lurid account of the insults directed at him.

...while Daryll Cullinan believes that Andre Nel will have a role to play with his mouth as well © Getty Images

Daryll Cullinan, the former South African batsman and veteran of 13 Tests against Australia, pointed to the history between both sides when discussing the series. There has been a less than hospitable atmosphere on the field - and off - when the teams have met. A glaring memory would be of the 1997-98 tour, when the late Hansie Cronje put a stump through the umpires' dressing-room door, and there was general acrimony after Mark Waugh was given not out after hitting his stumps.

Speaking to The Age in Melbourne, Cullinan was skeptical of matters taking a turn for the better. "As much as I would like to see it played in a great spirit, I somehow think it's not going to be that way. I think it may end up being an eventful summer. We've got some fiery characters and it may just spill over a little bit." The inclusion of Nel, the fast bowler with a penchant for rousing opposing batsmen, has become something of a hot topic as well. Nel has a colourful past chequered by disciplinary breaches, the latest of which had him fined for using abusive language during a one-day match against India last week, and Cullinan has mentioned him as a possible aggressor in the Test series. He added that this series would be the sternest challenge of Smith's captaincy.

Smith will not play in the three-day match at Perth beginning December 5, after injuring his finger. South Africa may shift Kemp to Smith's opening position in order to give him more batting practice.