South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg November 16, 2011

Can Australia bury the Newlands nightmare?

Match facts

South Africa v Australia, November 17-21, Johannesburg
Start time 1030 (0830 GMT)

Big Picture

It is a truism of sport that every match contains the previous match. Not in its conditions, venue or the atmosphere, but in the minds of the combatants. This fact is inescapable for Australia, no matter how much the team claims to have moved on from events in Cape Town. Michael Clarke's team is about to take the field in the wake of Australia's most traumatic Test defeat, in terms of a dominant position surrendered, since Kolkata 2001. The psyche of this team is rather more fragile than that of Steve Waugh's men, recalling that of the Kim Hughes-led XI that stumbled to another infamous defeat at Headingley in 1981. In each case, the impact of the loss carried over into the next Test, and ultimately proved decisive in the loss of the series.

For South Africa, the extraordinary events of Cape Town provided a heartening reminder of the resilience among some of the team's senior players, but also a sharp reminder of how far behind the hosts can fall if not entirely ready for the task at hand. The outstanding debut of Vernon Philander was another reason for excitement, as he provided a seaming, swerving counterpoint to the speed of Dale Steyn and the bounce of Morne Morkel. Less imposing was Jacques Rudolph in his first Test match since 2006, and he will want to make a notable score in order to stave off the claims of Alviro Petersen, the man he replaced as Graeme Smith's opening partner. Collectively, the team will relish the chance to defeat Australia at home, but they have of course slipped from positions of strength before.

The locals have far fewer questions swirling around their team than Australia, who have only two or three players without some kind of question hanging over them after Newlands. Phillip Hughes continues to furnish a reputation as a nicker, Shane Watson is regressing with the bat as quickly as he improves with the ball, and Ricky Ponting is shuffling across his stumps and seemingly into the twilight of his Test career. Brad Haddin's batting and 'keeping are being called increasingly into question, and Mitchell Johnson is probably on his last chance. Then there is Usman Khawaja, coming in to bat at No. 3 in place of the injured Shaun Marsh - by a distance Australia's most reassuring presence at the crease in recent matches. As a captain without a full-time coach to support him, Clarke has so much, too much, to ponder.

Form guide

(most recent first)

South Africa: WDLWD
Australia: LDDWL

In the spotlight

In the context of the second afternoon at Newlands, AB de Villiers' first innings eight was a handsome score. But as a senior batsman and ace fielder making his return to the team after an enforced convalescence to rest a fractured digit, it was underwhelming. Capable of the sort of innings that can swiftly change the course of a match, de Villiers may get his chance to do this at the Wanderers, on a surface known to aid the new ball but also provide enormous value for shots via a fast outfield and none-too-distant boundaries. An afternoon of rampant de Villiers strokeplay would be one of the surest paths to a South African series victory.

As a bowler of vast talent but enigmatic method, Mitchell Johnson has always needed the support of his captain and the long-term faith of the national selectors. At present he is in severe danger of exhausting both, so much so that Clarke has admitted Johnson may not get another chance beyond the Wanderers to prove his worth to the team. If Johnson cannot swing the ball in Johannesburg, where he bent it so treacherously in the first match of the 2009 series on the way to match figures of 8-135, it is valid to ask whether or not he will do it anywhere under Test match pressure.

Pitch and conditions

As with Cape Town, the early season timing of the match has created a little doubt about how the pitch will play, with some early inspections suggesting a softer surface than usual. It is expected to provide enough bounce allied to the swing often found in Johannesburg, and could be better for batting. A weather forecast of rain on most days suggests a handful of interruptions across the match.

Team news

The South Africans had optional training. An unchanged team is probable for the hosts, though Paul Harris may consider himself a chance for a recall given that the legspinner Imran Tahir's brief appearance at the bowling crease on his Test debut was less than dangerous.

South Africa (probable): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Jacques Rudolph, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Ashwell Prince, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir.

Peter Siddle is the man most likely to make way if the Australians elect to choose a different quick, either the highly reliable Trent Copeland or more likely the speedy teenager Pat Cummins. A "stiff and sore" Ryan Harris was clouding matters, and the Australians were unlikely to decide on the make-up of their attack until the morning of the match. Usman Khawaja will bat in place of Shaun Marsh.

Australia (probable): 1 Shane Watson, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Pat Cummins, 11 Nathan Lyon

Stats & trivia

  • A win or draw in Johannesburg would deliver South Africa's first home series victory over Australia since the nation's return to international cricket in 1992.

  • A baggy green cap for Pat Cummins at 18 would make him the youngest Test debutant for Australia since Ian Craig walked out to bat against South Africa as a 17-year-old in 1953.

  • South Africa have only beaten Australia once at the Wanderers since cricket contact resumed, in 1994. Australia have won each of the four Tests they have played at the ground since.


"Because it was very short, it did take a lot out of the players emotionally. We had two unexpected days off, which was a nice surprise. We were on the right side of that game but the guys are looking forward to the next one."
South Africa batsman Hashim Amla on the mental drain of Cape Town

"It's an important Test for us as a team for a little bit of redemption and to show our desire to play for Australia and what it means."
Australia's captain Michael Clarke says his side have much to atone for at the Wanderers

"We want to earn the right to win the series and we want to play well. There is a nice humbleness in the group, especially after such a successful win."
Graeme Smith says South Africa are not getting carried away

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo