Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel Nine's cricket coverage

Just how much did Adelaide take out of Australia?

The two teams are evenly matched, but South Africa will struggle to get their balance sorted and Australia their fast bowlers' energy

Mark Nicholas

November 29, 2012

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Dale Steyn stretches his tight left hamstring, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 1st day, November 22, 2012
Dale Steyn: more pussycat than big cat in the series so far © Getty Images

Not only is it exciting that Australia and South Africa go head to head tomorrow in Perth to decide this three-Test series, it is apt. These are countries wedded to the culture of sport, places of wide open spaces, hot sun and uncomplicated values. Sport is healthy, sport is gracious, mainly, and sport is good. You play, you have a beer, you talk nonsense, you make mates. Then you run out of years and stop the playing. The mates, the beer and the bullshit are there forever. When Ian Chappell said G'day to Mike Procter in Brisbane, you would think they had broken bread the previous evening. In fact, it had been some years since the last encounter.

They had fun during one of the tea breaks at the Gabba, appearing together on Channel 9 to choose the greatest allrounders of the modern age. Garry Sobers and Jacques Kallis were shoo-ins. Imran Khan, Keith Miller and Ian Botham got the other slots. Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev and Shaun Pollock were close by; Chris Cairns, Tony Greig and Andrew Flintoff well worthy of mention. Richie Benaud was first to 2000 runs and 200 wickets; Daniel Vettori is another spinner to have crossed the divide with colours. It is a subjective thing and not written to provoke. Listening to them, one could not help but wonder if Procter was turning back time, wishing, and wishing again for sliding doors.

Oddly, neither country has allrounders knocking at the door. This must be a cyclical thing because the modern game is made for them. Life after Kallis will be an eye-opener for South Africans. Shane Watson is close to cracking the code but the injuries that pursue him may reflect nature's response to modern schedules. When the demands are in three different formats and almost exclusively on the field of international competition, the body may well be saying, enough now, enough.

Watson is back tomorrow and will probably bowl, which gives the Australians an edge. Kallis, assuming he plays, will not. Both teams want six batsmen, a wicketkeeper and four specialist bowlers. Thus, South Africa have a greater conundrum of balance than Australia. Vernon Philander is fit and Imran Tahir will be dropped. Robin Petersen is a chance but Rory Kleinveldt is the marginal favourite for that last spot. Perhaps it will not be long before the gloves are taken from AB de Villiers and handed to Thami Tsolekile. De Villiers insists he is up for it but the degeneration of his batting is marked and of concern. His mind appears slow, as if distracted, and his footwork is proof. Brilliant hands and a still head are part of the art of batting, but not all of it. Even the mighty Adam Gilchrist remained at No. 7 when his talent so obviously required promotion. Only stumpers themselves truly know the strain of their work.

The key for the South Africans is Dale Steyn. There has been little of the African bush about him - more pussycat than big cat. When Graeme Smith says his team has not been at its best, he surely means Steyn. The WACA's hard pitch will suit him, so Smith must find bait. Short spells with the breeze, dovetailing with Morne Morkel, can work well in Perth, particularly as Philander is an ideal foil into the fabled Fremantle doctor that stirs during the afternoon. In Perth, nature forces the sectorial hand.

The key for Australia is mindset. Just how much did Adelaide take out of the players? The physical issues are apparent and treatable, the mental ones less obvious and, thus, more complex. Mo Farah's great achievement at the London Olympics was to do it all again a week later - 10,000 metres and 5000 metres, two golds in one week. Incredible. The Australian conundrum is that Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus may have to bowl on Friday morning, four days after a distressing and failed mission. Will they be flat? If they pull up okay on Friday, will they last till Tuesday? Fascinating. Can Michael Clarke risk both? Surely not. And this is make or break, a one-off. Given that, is Mitchell Johnson, the wizard of Perth, a sudden trump card? Maybe.

Then there is the Ricky Ponting question to consider. Is he distracted by the final curtain? Adelaide rose to him as he walked out to bat - the start of his first innings - much as they have done in the past when appreciating the end of one. Was this goodbye? How could he help but not think so. Then he sees the replays of the two dismissals, again and again, and he thinks it must have been and he wonders if the crowd is right and he is wrong. He must think this. It is unavoidable. And it is riveting.

Imagine for a minute that there is a World Test Championship and that this is the final, the Million Dollar Match. It is a perfect conception. Australia and South Africa in a winner-take-all prize fight at the WACA - with its bright light, fast pitch and full house. For all the variables and the unknowns, the insecurities, the vulnerabilities, the fatigue, the form or otherwise and the attention, the players should consider only one thing. If they think they can or they think they can't, they are probably right.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by AA77 on (December 2, 2012, 23:11 GMT)

Mark Nicholas - you may wax lyrically.... but Steyn just steamrolled the Aussies .. poor Michael Clarke got a delivery in Perth befitting of his batting ability .. again, true cricket to the highest degree ..

Posted by   on (November 30, 2012, 12:34 GMT)

Had a lot of respect for Mark Nicholas...but was shocked today when he described India win in Perth few years back as a 'fluke' and as a result of the monkey gate scandal. Then he went on to belittle R.P Singh ...the man of the match for that win. Infact India played great cricket through out that series...was unfortunate to lose the sydney test because of shocking umpiring decisions of one Steve Bucknor. Get your facts right Mr Mark Nicolas.

Posted by Dashgar on (November 30, 2012, 12:10 GMT)

I can just imagine what Siddle, Hilf and Patto must be screaming at the new bowlers in this test "We loosened them for you!"

Posted by HyderabadiFlick on (November 30, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

If RSA can get 50 run lead then we have a great match on our hands. Ricky is a legend indeed but his career would have been done last season if India would not have toured Australia. It's the Indian bowling which brought Ponting into some form. You could look at the stats before and after India series Ponting has nothing to show. Even B'desh would have given Ponting a good run for his money.

Posted by durhamd on (November 30, 2012, 0:37 GMT)

A brilliant article, which is hopefully prelude to a brilliant test match! An Englishman, staying up for the 2:30am GMT start shows how wonderful a series this has been.

Posted by duncanonmail on (November 30, 2012, 0:27 GMT)

The difference between the teams has been Clarke. Without his contribution, even half his contribution, the teams have been pretty even. SA's big batsmen have not really fired and neither have their bowlers. On the other hand Australia can feel pretty good with their batsmen and bowlers.

Posted by kempy21 on (November 29, 2012, 23:54 GMT)

@Andre117 agree completely. On paper, SA should have beaten us in the first two Tests. They have the number 1 billing and a reputation to uphold and yet have not been able to kill Australia off. This game will be fascinating to watch, but unfortunately for Punter, I fear that his last Test will be a losing one. The selectors have done him no favours with the quality (or lack thereof) of the guys who have been brought in. Starc - limited overs form bowler; Johnson - streaky bowler who can be fantastic but those days are few and far between and long gone; Hastings and Hazelwood - both debutants and both clearly not up to Test standard based on career and current season stats. The selectors will have to answer for a lot if we lose this Test. I do not think there is 20 wickets in these guys to win it.

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 23:39 GMT)

If South Africa goes into yet another Test match in Australia without a spinner, I will renounce my supporter's card for the next week. Absolutely idiotic. I can't believe it's even being considered.

Posted by featurewriter on (November 29, 2012, 20:54 GMT)

"Oddly, neither country has all-rounders knocking on the door." While I don't know enough about the SA domestic competition, I'd suggest there are a number of talented all-rounders just a whisper away from a call-up: Butterworth, Henriques, McDonald are all centurions with bowling averages well under 30 (and under 25 in Butterworth's case). And there is the likes of Faulkner, Coulter-Nile and Cutting. Seems like a pretty rich field of talent there. Regardless, I want to thank Mark Nicholas for bringing a fresh perspective - and an immense and diverse talent - to cricket commentary. I'm a huge fan.

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 17:09 GMT)

Now that's how to set up a match! Kudos MCJ!

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 13:52 GMT)

Aus have played to the best of their capabilities and SA have been below par, yet the score is even! If SA lifts their game they will be to much for Aus, and thats that!

Posted by MrPud on (November 29, 2012, 13:43 GMT)

Johnson in? You must be joking. He is a spent force and we need to win this match. None for 100 off 12 and a first ball duck will ensure the Aussies lose; great selection.What about picking a bowler in form?

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 13:13 GMT)

One who says SA were the strongest of two in first two tests is wrong. I think Aus dominated last two matches and all SA was trying was to avoid the defeat in both. Steyn and Morkel were below par according to their own standards but Faf Du Plessis had one of the greatest debuts ive ever seen for a batsman in tests.

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 13:05 GMT)

I loved the way Starc bowled in UAE, T20WC and Champions League.

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 13:04 GMT)

I must say I will be glued to TV to see one of the greatest batsmen coming onto the field in his last match and to see Mitchel Starc playing in a test match. He's a good bowler. I know Starc hasn't been great in his earlier test matches but he's been in great form over the last few months. In my opinion his performance will be good.

Posted by Andre117 on (November 29, 2012, 10:34 GMT)

"SA team had been the strongest of the first two tests". I disagree. In all 3 innings so far Aus has been 3 down for almost nothing and SA could not strike those killing blows. In both tests SA was batting to save the game and if it wasn't for an awesome knock from the debutante SA would've lost the game. Wonderboys Dale and Vern were flat so far and I'm hoping they prove their positions on the rankings in the finale. I hope the boys realize that they were outplayed so far and saved the best for last. Go Proteas!

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 9:48 GMT)

Brilliant article Mark.

The SA team had been the strongest of the first two tests. why because the Australians threw everything they could at them without success. cricket technical stuff normally now about the weather forecast weeks ahead of a test match and hosting captains send special letters to grounds men for suitable pitches for their Batsmens needs.Yes that was day1 record score but even that did not work.

Lets hope the WACCA is what it is known for.

Posted by sportofpain on (November 29, 2012, 9:03 GMT)

SA will win this test comfortably. Australia is spent.

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 8:30 GMT)

Nice article. Pity it was so badly dated only hours after being posted. Siddle and Hilfenhaus are out and Ponting has declared.

Posted by Alec_J on (November 29, 2012, 6:56 GMT)

There is no better commentator or cricket personality that embodies the true meaning and history of real cricket, test cricket, than Mark Nicholas. What an excellent article!!

Posted by PFEL on (November 29, 2012, 5:02 GMT)

Obviously the 2 teams are NOT "evenly matched", as Australia absolutely dominated the first 2 tests. However aussie exhaustion from Adelaide may bring South Africa in with a fighting chance

Posted by   on (November 29, 2012, 4:41 GMT)

Ah.... excellent Mr. Nicholas. That was an interesting read.

Posted by Meety on (November 29, 2012, 4:25 GMT)

Yes, this match is set up as a winner takes all, although for Sth Africa a draw is as good, which MAY mean Oz have the edge as Pup is trying to win. Dunno if Watto gives us an edge - he is not match fit, otherwise I would agree!

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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