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Peter English at the SCG
January 2, 2009
Big PictureSouth Africa can take the official No. 1 ranking by winning the game, even though they sit on top by every other measure after handing Australia their first series defeat at home in 16 years. Following up their chase of 414 in Perth, the tourists beat an uninspired Australia in Melbourne by nine wickets and their only concern entering the match is a hangover from the breakthrough success - and the celebrations.
While the tourists are confident, happy and successful, Ricky Ponting's outfit is hurt, out of form, and disjointed. The captain, the players and the selectors have come under heavy fire for the swift decline and this is the last home opportunity for a year to show signs of a revival. Given the fragile state of the squad following the heavy defeats, a strong comeback would be a shock, especially as the bowling attack is so inexperienced it will be led by Mitchell Johnson, who has played only 17 Tests.
Two changes have been forced on the side with Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds out injured. South Africa have overcome a raft of historical mistakes during this series, but the SCG provides them with a fond memory. In 1993-94 they stunned Australia by beating them by five runs when the hosts failed to chase 117.
Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)Australia LLWWL
Watch out forMatthew Hayden Fortunate to be picked, Hayden has impressed the selectors with his form in the nets, not in the middle. In his past eight Tests he has 313 runs at 22.35, and in this series has 47 in four innings. At 37 he has been given an opportunity to extend his journey to the Ashes, but with every innings without spark he gets closer to joining his friend Justin Langer in retirement.
Hashim Amla South Africa's No. 3 has looked stunning in the first two Tests without breaking through for a defining contribution. A batsman with the extra time of VVS Laxman, Amla is the artist in a line-up off highly-skilled tradesmen. With scores of 47, 53, 19 and 30 not out in the series, he needs a big return to transform his effortless actions into star quality.
Team newsAustralia have received a new look with Andrew McDonald and Doug Bollinger all set to make their debuts. The toss-up for one fast-bowling spot was between Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus, and by picking the local man the selectors have ensured two left-arm fast bowlers in the XI. Peter Siddle, who was so impressive in Melbourne, will take the new ball with Bollinger, and Mitchell Johnson will come in at first change.
Lee's stress injury in his left foot and ankle surgery mean he will miss up to 10 weeks while Symonds' knee operation on Wednesday should leave him free to take some part in Australia's one-day campaigns. This is the players' last opportunity to impress for the return series in South Africa in February.
Australia 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Andrew McDonald, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Doug Bollinger.
While Australia have lots to consider, South Africa have few worries in their camp. Ashwell Prince's cracked thumb hasn't yet healed - he failed a fitness test - but South Africa have enough batsmen in form to make sure that Prince's absence isn't a worry. It also means Neil McKenzie, who batted 204 minutes in the second innings in Melbourne, will retain his place at the top of the order. Graeme Smith's elbow is still a problem, but the captain will play in the aim for a clean sweep.
South Africa 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Neil McKenzie, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.
Pitch and conditionsPaul Harris has out-bowled both Nathan Hauritz and Jason Krejza during the first two Tests and he will gain more assistance on a Sydney pitch that favours the slow bowlers. However, the curator Tom Parker says it won't be a raging turner, and the spinners might have to wait until the third or fourth day for significant help. Fast bowling will again be the major weapon of both sides, who will pick only one specialist slow man, and they will operate on a surface that is slightly green.
Stats and Trivia
Quotes"Unfortunately the gap between our best cricket and our worst cricket has been far too great. That's what we all have to learn from and try to improve heading into Sydney."
"Our ability to keep Matthew Hayden under pressure has given us an opportunity to get two wins out of two, no doubt."
The South Africa coach Mickey Arthur on the importance of Australia's under-fire opener
Also, best post-war win/loss record, most runs in two calendar years, most ducks in a Test, and brothers with similar numbers
It's close to inexplicable how India's best spinner is being left out in favour of bits-and-pieces players