South Africa's form trumps Australian record
The SCG in recent years has played host to several dead rubbers - six out of 11 since 2000 - with visiting teams having to undertake the unfortunate task of looking for a consolation win after losing the series prior to the New Year's Test. However, the tables have turned, and Australia, who have a fabulous record in Sydney - winning nine out of 11 Tests since 2000 - are now in a situation of trying to salvage what they can out of a disappointing series defeat.
Each of Australia's victories here in the last eight years have been comprehensive, including a ten-wicket win against South Africa in 2002 and another eight-wicket victory following a brave declaration by Graeme Smith in 2006. Their only defeat came against England in 2003 after leading the series 4-0. But past history has meant little in this series; with a 2-0 lead, South Africa - who have won in Sydney before, a nerve-wracking five-run victory in 1994 - have the form, confidence, and the momentum to blight the home team's enviable record.
|South Africa (Overall)||10||1||7||2|
|Australia (Since 2000)||11||9||1||1|
|South Africa (Since 2000)||2||0||2||0|
Australia's batsmen, particularly Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey, had a disappointing time in 2008. Hayden has scored 892 runs at an average of 55.75 at the SCG, but managed just 552 at 32.47 in 2008. Barring his tremendous start to that year - he scored back-to-back hundreds against India in Sydney and Adelaide - he averaged just 22.35 in 15 innings, and 11.75 in four this series. Hussey's average has slipped to under 60 - from 80.58 at the end of 2007 - and his wicket was priced at 37.50 runs last year as opposed to over 70 in the previous three. His three Tests in Sydney, however, have yielded 268 runs at 89.33.
Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich are the only Australian batsmen in the current squad whose recent form remains consistent with their performances in Sydney - Ponting was Australia's highest run-getter last year, and is their most prolific run-scorer at the SCG, while Katich averaged 56.72 in 2008, and 64 at the venue. Michael Clarke has struggled with the bat in Sydney, but Australia will dearly miss the services of Andrew Symonds - ruled out due to injury - as he averages a staggering 94.33 in three Tests there.
|Player||Runs and Average at SCG||Runs and Average in 2008|
|Ricky Ponting||1282 at 75.41||1182 at 47.28|
|Matthew Hayden||892 at 55.75||552 at 32.47|
|Andrew Symonds||283 at 94.33||762 at 50.80|
|Michael Hussey||268 at 89.33||900 at 37.50|
|Simon Katich||256 at 64.00||1021 at 56.72|
|Michael Clarke||91 at 15.16||1063 at 50.61|
Some of South Africa's batsmen have had experience of playing at the SCG, with Jacques Kallis - he needs just 53 more to get to 10,000 runs in Tests - leading the list among players in the current squad with an average of 52 in three Tests. Ashwell Prince, if selected in the XI, will be encouraged by his century in his only Test in Sydney in 2006. AB de Villiers had a forgettable outing the same year, and Mark Boucher doesn't have much to show for his efforts in Sydney. However, the South African batsmen have enjoyed a tremendous 2008 - four of them scored over a 1000 runs.
With Brett Lee, who has taken 38 wickets in nine matches at the SCG, ruled out of the Test and the subsequent tour of South Africa, Mitchell Johnson takes over the task of leading an inexperienced bowling attack. Both Johnson and Dale Steyn have been the spearheads for their respective teams in this series - Johnson has 13 wickets at 24.76 and Steyn has 14 at 22.57 - but South Africa's other bowlers have fared far better in providing support to their dominant performer. Apart from Johnson, Australia have used seven bowlers who have taken 12 wickets at 79.67, while Kallis, Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, and Makhaya Ntini have 26 wickets between them at 37.69.
However, Australia's Nathan Hauritz, and Clarke, whose three wickets in seven balls helped Australia win a thrilling game against India in Sydney last year, can hope to deliver, as spinners have averaged better than fast bowlers - 38.84 compared to 39.88 - in 11 Tests at the SCG since 2000. They've taken more five-wicket hauls, though fast bowlers have taken more wickets.
Since 2000, Australia's batsmen have enjoyed a significant 14-run advantage over visiting teams in terms of runs-per-wicket at the SCG. They average 47.29 while South Africa, in their two losses, have priced each wicket at 35.74. While the SCG figures are certainly in Australia's favour, a highly successful 2008 with both bat and ball hands the advantage to South Africa.
|Runs per wicket in 2008||Runs per wicket at the SCG since 2000|
|South Africa batting||45.13||35.74|
|South Africa bowling||28.32||57.04|
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo