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December 16, 2008
Big PictureThe main event is finally here. The world's two top-ranked Test sides are coming off comfortable wins over less well regarded opponents in series that were effectively curtain-raisers for what should be a fascinating three-Test tour. Australia accounted for New Zealand in four days in both their Tests at the Gabba and Adelaide Oval and South Africa had little trouble securing a 2-0 victory at home against Bangladesh.
South Africa have had trouble matching Australia in recent years but in 2008 they achieved two things Australia have struggled with: they drew a series with India in India and beat England in England. Australia have already failed at the first of those tasks this year and they are desperate to rectify the second next year when they aim to make up for their 2005 Ashes loss in England. Losing at home to South Africa would not only be a huge blow for their morale, it would also severely dent their claim to be the best side in the world.
The lead-up to this series has been more muted than the last time the South Africans visited Australia, in 2005-06, when Graeme Smith launched a verbal assault on his opponents. The ploy backfired and this time there has been a much more calm approach from South Africa. Instead it has been Australia who have tried to put off their rivals by questioning whether they can perform under pressure. The time has come to find out.
Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)Australia WWLDL
Watch out forPeter Siddle, the young Victorian fast bowler who replaced the injured Stuart Clark in the Test in Mohali, has got a second opportunity because of Clark's dodgy elbow. Given that Clark faces a lengthy spell out with surgery, Siddle has a huge chance to cement a spot in the Test team, at least for this series. A quick and uncomplicated bowler, Siddle marked himself as a Test player with his first ball in Mohali when he bounced one into Gautam Gambhir's helmet. In more helpful conditions at the WACA, he could be a handful for a South African line-up unfamiliar with his bowling.
The leading wicket taker in Tests in 2008, Dale Steyn has been the major talking point in the Australian media in the lead-up to the match. His 60 wickets for the calendar year mark him down as a huge threat to Australia's top order, as does the fact he is the only man among the top 15 bowlers for this year to be averaging less than 20. By all accounts a model citizen away from the game - "a guy that you'd want as your son," according to coach Mickey Arthur - Steyn has a killer instinct on the field. A skiddy type of bowler who moves the ball away from right-handers, he regularly clocks more than 150kph and will be a handful on the bouncy WACA pitch. His challenge is not to get too carried away with the conditions, or too weighed down by the hype surrounding him.
Team newsThe once stable Australia have not fielded the same side in consecutive Tests for the past 11 matches and that will stretch to 12 games in Perth. Nathan Hauritz, who was a surprise inclusion in the Adelaide Test against New Zealand, is back on state duty and Jason Krejza will make his long-awaited second Test appearance. Krejza burst onto the scene with 12 wickets on debut in Nagpur but was overlooked in Brisbane before injuring his ankle in the lead-up to the Adelaide Test. He won his spot ahead of Shane Watson as Australia were wary of making the same mistake as last year in taking four fast bowlers into the Perth Test, although the pitch is expected to be livelier this year.
Australia 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Andrew Symonds, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Brett Lee, 9 Jason Krejza, 10 Mitchell Johnson, 11 Peter Siddle.
The coach Mickey Arthur said there would be no surprises in the South African side, which features one of the most imposing batting line-ups in world cricket. Mark Boucher suffered a minor sprain to the medial ligament of his left ankle during the warm-up game but will play and there are no other injury concerns. The only doubt was whether the spinner Paul Harris would be included ahead of a fourth fast bowler, perhaps Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who impressed in both tour matches. Arthur said Tsotsobe was not out of the reckoning for a Test debut but it was shaping up as a match where they would feel the need to field a specialist spinner.
South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Neil McKenzie, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.
Pitch and conditionsThe appropriately named WACA has always delighted fast bowlers with its prodigious pace, bounce and carry. The pitches have become less spicy in recent years but there has been a return to the more traditional fast Perth surfaces in the domestic competition this season. The curator Cameron Sutherland is much happier with this year's pitch than that used in last season's Test, when the familiar zip was missing. There is likely to be a green tinge and although it might favour the fast men early, if batsmen can get set there are big scores on offer thanks to the pace off the bat and the quick outfield. Spinners should not be under-rated at the WACA, where the Fremantle Doctor blows across the ground and helps create drift, while the bounce can be just as useful for a quality slow man as for his seam-up colleagues.
Stats and Trivia
Quotes"It's very fair to say we've had the wood over them for a long time in both forms of the game and particularly probably in bigger moments in series, whether it be World Cup semi-finals or whether it be Test series."
"Australia have earned the right to be respected. They've got some class players but if you look at the stats their bowling attack is very different to the last one we played on home soil."
Graeme Smith hopes the problems his team has experienced against Australia in the past will not be repeated
The thrills are rather low-octane, the skills are a bit lightweight, and the tournament overly India-centric
Also, high scores and low averages, most ducks in international cricket, and the 12-year-old Test player
Former New Zealand seamer Gavin Larsen talks about wobbly seam-up bowling, the 1992 World Cup, and his role in the next tournament
Twenty years on, Shivnarine Chanderpaul continues to be understated, underestimated. And that doesn't bother him. What's not to like?
Plays of the day from the CLT20 game between Kolkata Knight Riders and Chennai Super Kings
Of the 85 Tests that Bangladesh have played so far, they've lost 70 and won just four. Those stats are easily the worst among all teams when they'd played as many Tests
The planned reorganisation of their domestic structure should help the region recapture some of the glory it enjoyed in the past
Both teams face contrasting opponents in their next Test series. While West Indies will be tested against stronger teams, Bangladesh have it easier but without much to gain