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December 24, 2008
If success breeds success then South Africa must be a sure thing for the Boxing Day Test after their outstanding triumph in Perth left them brimming with confidence. Alas, sport is not that predictable and Graeme Smith knows that things can change quickly. At least his men are now over their nerves and he hopes they can take extra self-belief into the MCG Test, which starts on Friday.
"From our perspective I think the guys are far more settled now," Smith said. "We've got more self-belief in terms of what they've achieved individually and as a team in the last Test. I'm sure there'll be a few exciting moments but I think most of the guys are pretty much in a good space."
If South Africa were nervous before the WACA Test it would be news to Australia. The chase of 414, which they achieved with six wickets in hand, was handled so calmly that it was hard to believe the team had ever been labelled chokers.
The ease of the victory left Australia with major concerns over their bowling attack. Ricky Ponting lowered his expectations of the inexperienced Jason Krejza and Peter Siddle, and said Brett Lee needed to lift his game sharpish. It was far from the unruffled attitude that Smith had seen from Australia in previous series.
"I was surprised at some of the statements and media reports after the Test match," Smith said. "It wasn't something that I expected. Having played against Australia for a period of time they have always looked composed and well-directed in the ways they want to go so that was surprising."
Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Hauritz were added to Australia's squad and they also have injury concerns over Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds. South Africa's group is far more settled and with Smith able to play on despite his ongoing elbow problem, the only query is over the batsman Ashwell Prince.
Prince suffered a cracked thumb at training ahead of the Perth Test and was a late withdrawal, opening the door for JP Duminy to make his debut. Duminy was a key part of the victory when he made an unbeaten 50 on the final day and proved himself a more than capable replacement should Prince again fail a fitness test.
"I would think he's still 50-50," Smith said of Prince. "I think it's only seven days since the injury which is on the borderline. So we'll see how he goes in the next two days but if he is experiencing pain we probably wouldn't risk him."
A lot is riding on the match at the MCG, where Australia have won their last nine Tests. If South Africa can break through for another win it would bring them within one match of taking Australia's No. 1 ranking and hand them their first series victory in Australia, which would cap off a near-perfect year for Smith's men.
"We've had three of the toughest tours in a season with India, England and here," Smith said. "We drew in India, won in England and if we can really close off the series here in Australia it would be an incredible achievement for this team, probably our most successful season ever in the history of South African cricket."
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