Australia in South Africa / News

South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town

Warne looms large for confident South Africa

Edward Craig at Cape Town

March 15, 2006

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Out of the shadows: Shane Warne will be a key figure in the series © Getty Images
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Since Sunday, this series has gone global. The South African players have been in demand like never before with requests for interviews and profiles from media across the world, all manner of South African magazines wanting to learn more about new found heroes - from lifestyle to sports titles, 'what type of shoe does Herschelle Gibbs wear?' one asked, 'when's the next game,' another.

The players themselves have had a strange time of it. They want to revel in their achievement - not only a series win but the most remarkable chase in one-day history - but have also had to switch quickly from the heady and slightly silly one-day experience to the tough and serious business of Test cricket.

The Australians are probably finding this transition easier. However hard it is to forget that you failed to defend 434 in 50 overs, you want to as quickly as possible. You are not caught in a media fervour, you can keep your head down and get on with it. And the Test side is markedly different from the ODI side. If there are scars from that defeat, only half the team will have them, the others replaced by such monumental performers as Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Shane Warne.

The Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, who had an injury scare with a damaged finger on his left hand in training during the afternoon, is pleased to have Warne back. "It's nice to have someone like him coming back into the side - he has been good around the group already, he has lost weight and is looking fit." Warne is the consummate team man, organising slip catching in practice, a friendly pat on the shoulder for all.

He is the centre of attention even when he keeps his mouth shut, not that he does that often. Prior to the Joburg Jamboree, he said that this was the worst South African side to tour Australia that he had faced. Then he insisted that Graeme Smith should shoulder all the responsibility for the defeats down under. For once, Smith let his bat do the talking.

Then there's the matter of the Cape Town pitch and Warne. There is a problem and the South African camp is less than happy. It is late in the summer for a Cape Town Test (usually they are at New Year) and the pitch has seen a lot of cricket on a small square. Two ODIs, the Pro20, the SuperSport Series - and finally a Test match. This particular strip has already been used two, maybe three, times. It looks worn and that suits Australia as they have ... Warne. The groundsman insists it'll hold up for five days but Warne, who bowled 98 overs here in his last visit, is licking his lips. And the Australians are likely to select Stuart MacGill, who some claim is the second best legspinner in the world, to make life even more awkward.



Shaun Pollock is still a doubt for South Africa with a back problem © Getty Images
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The South African spin options are less enticing even than England's - the cupboard is utterly bare. The only realistic contender is Nicky Boje, who plays an Ashley Giles role at best, bowling left-arm spin from over the wicket to rest the seamers, but he has food poisoning. He'll play and be okay in the morning but it'll take a few days to fire on all cylinders - he'll be praying South Africa win the toss.

But if they don't, there should be early movement and the return of Andre Nel and maybe Shaun Pollock to lift South Africa. Nel was rested as an injury prevention measure through the ODI series and it is hoped that Pollock will have recovered sufficiently from a back problem to bring the control that would have made Sunday's game so much more boring. He did feel discomfort bowling this morning, however, and there is concern among the South African camp that their leading seamer may yet miss out.

Add to that a new-found confidence from pulling off that win and the home camp is buoyant. Both teams have trained hard, with Australia seeming intense and regimented while South Africa appear relaxed and carefree. All the while, crowds build around the practice area, kids trying to steal an autograph or have their picture taken with the nation's new heartthrob AB de Villiers.

There is an unmistakable buzz around town. Cricket has caught the public imagination similarly to the Ashes in England last July. Demand has rocketed for match tickets with queues round the block, Pollock's injury was front page news and Sunday's game keeps being repeated - in full - on one of the local sport's channels. Most South African fans and journalists are still coming to terms with that game - there is a dreamy twinkle whenever it gets discussed, did that really happen? And it still gets talked about - the players keep being asked about it, journalists who were there crow, those that weren't envy.

Reality will bite tomorrow. This is a tough Australian side with the toughest and best world cricketer fresh and hungry from a break and with a pitch likely to suit him. There is a fear the South Africans could come down from this one-day high with a hefty bump.

Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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