South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Johannesburg

Australia opt for all-pace attack

The Preview by Brydon Coverdale in Johannesburg

February 25, 2009

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Match facts

February 26-March 2, 2009
Start time 10.30am (08.30GMT)


Phillip Hughes is set to make his Test debut for Australia © Getty Images
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Big Picture

South Africa's tour of Australia was such a short while ago that it feels like this is the fourth Test in a six-match series. Following their 2-1 win, South Africa headed home and their players had a break of sorts, although there was some domestic cricket on the calendar. Australia faced New Zealand in a one-day contest before rushing to the airport to set off for Johannesburg. Australia enter the series hanging on by a fingernail to their No. 1 Test ranking. They avoided handing it over at the SCG last month but a South African series win this time will mean the end of the long reign of Ricky Ponting's men.

It's only three years since Australia's last Test tour of South Africa but a lot has changed in that time. Only three members of the current squad - Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey - made that trip. Where once there was Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden and Brett Lee, there are now names like Bryce McGain, Phillip Hughes and Ben Hilfenhaus. How Australia's newer faces handle the pressure of a Test tour will be a key factor in the final results. There are no such squad issues for South Africa, who have retained the core group that won in Australia and have such a strong line-up that Ashwell Prince couldn't find a spot.

The other fascinating part of the series will be how the two teams use the umpire referrals. Neither side has played under the trial system, which will be overseen in all three Tests by Billy Bowden, Asad Rauf and the retiring Steve Bucknor.

Form guide (last five Tests, most recent first)

South Africa LWWWW
Australia WLLWW

Watch out for

Dale Steyn lived up to the hype in Australia and finished as the leading wicket taker and was a major reason why South Africa won the series. On his home pitches he will again prove a handful, particularly if the prodigious swing that is expected does happen. As if he wasn't threatening enough, he has spent his time off toughening up by wrestling crocodiles.

Phillip Hughes will become Australia's youngest Test debutant since Craig McDermott in 1984 when he walks out on Thursday at the age of 20 years and 88 days. A supremely talented left-hand opening batsman, Hughes has piled up runs for New South Wales over the past 18 months but his most striking characteristic is his ability to perform on big occasions. They don't come much bigger than a tour of South Africa where the No. 1 ranking is on the line and the ability of Hughes and Simon Katich to provide strong starts will be critical to Australia's chances.

Team news

South Africa have named a 12-man squad for the first Test and there isn't much doubt about who will play. The left-arm fast bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been included but will almost certainly be the man to miss out as the settled group that beat Australia at home continues its push for the No. 1 spot. The spinner Paul Harris is likely to play in a team that was so good in Australia that Prince could not break back into the side having fully recovered from his broken thumb.

South Africa (likely) 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.

The rain and pitch conditions at the Wanderers have encouraged Australia to name a 12-man squad with both the specialist spinners Bryce McGain and Nathan Hauritz left out. It means an all-pace attack and the main decision now is whether to include the medium-pace allrounder Andrew McDonald or go for four out-and-out fast men in Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus. The batsman and handy offspinner Marcus North should have confirmed his Test debut thanks to his strong performance in the tour match in Potchefstroom. However, the only one of the three uncapped men in Australia's 12 who is certain of making his debut is the opener Phillip Hughes.

Australia (likely) 1 Phillip Hughes, 2 Simon Katich, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Doug Bollinger, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus, 12 Andrew McDonald.

Pitch and conditions

There was some rain in the lead-up to the match, which meant that until a couple of days ago the players had not seen the pitch, which was covered by a tent-like structure that allowed the groundsmen to continue working on it. However, both teams are expecting plenty of swing, particularly on the first day, while it could be hard going for batsmen and spinners. There are further storms forecast for the first few days of the Test.

Stats and Trivia

  • Jacques Kallis needs 12 runs to become the first South African to reach 10,000
  • AB de Villiers will become the fourth South African to play 50 consecutive Tests
  • Australia have won the last three Tests between the two sides at the Wanderers and two of the successes were innings victories
Click here for more stats.

Quotes

"We've spoken about the moments of the last series where we were a bit deficient. The guys have learnt a lot from those moments and what we have to do better next time. We can't forget that some of these guys are playing their fourth, fifth, some of them are playing their first Test out here."
Ricky Ponting on the eve of the Test.

"I definitely won't mind seeing Australia bat and having Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel running in on the first morning."
AB de Villiers wants to bat first but thinks there would be benefits in sending Australia in.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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