South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Durban March 3, 2009

McGain faces uphill battle to debut


Andrew McDonald restricted South Africa and collected two wickets in the Johannesburg Test and Australia must decide whether to retain him in Durban © Getty Images
 

Bryce McGain's chances of making his Test debut in Durban this week are looking slim after Ricky Ponting declared it would be difficult to change Australia's winning side. The Australians went in without a specialist spinner in Johannesburg because of the seamer-friendly conditions and the strong pace attack was the key in their 162-run series-opening victory.

The second Test begins at Kingsmead on Friday and Australia's two slow men, Bryce McGain and Nathan Hauritz, are hoping to be in contention. However, the three genuine fast bowlers Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus performed strongly and their medium-pace backup Andrew McDonald built the pressure with economical spells and collected a wicket in each innings.

On the final day at the Wanderers, McGain and Hauritz spent the lunch break sending down deliveries on a practice pitch out in the middle as they aimed to see if there was some turn. Both men spun the ball but it might not be enough to force any changes in an Australian side that used Marcus North as a part-time offspinner in Johannesburg.

"We went in here with the team we did because of the conditions and what history suggested for this venue," Ponting said after the Wanderers win. "We'll have to have a closer look at that for Durban. One thing we do know down there is that the ball will always swing in Durban as well, particularly early in the game.

"We'll have a look at it but it will be hard to change this team. This side has played really well over five days. There have been really valuable contributions from everyone when they needed to do it, and when I asked them to do it. That's a sign of a good, hungry team of players willing to do whatever it takes to win a game for you."

Both squads travelled on Tuesday to Durban, where their most recent meeting resulted in a tight Australian victory as the light faded on the fifth day. Shane Warne was the star with six wickets in the second innings but his success is the exception rather than the rule at Kingsmead, where fast men have usually been more effective.

South Africa have not played a specialist spinner in their most recent two Tests at the venue and Anil Kumble is the only slow man besides Warne to have collected at least three wickets in an innings there since 2002. Paul Harris should hold his place for this game but Graeme Smith said it would be a friendly pitch for the fast men in the opening few days.

"Generally Durban is a good wicket with good pace and bounce," Smith said. "It has been over the last period of time a really good Test wicket that deteriorates as the Test match goes on so certainly as a team we won't be making any panicky changes. We've got Albie Morkel coming into the squad but other than that it's just about improving our standards."

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo