South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Johannesburg

Careers could be on the line after Wanderers

Australia must win to avoid their fourth series loss to South Africa in 109 years. But the ramifications of this Test could be much more far-reaching as John Inverarity begins determining the fate of Australia's cricketers

Brydon Coverdale in Johannesburg

November 16, 2011

Comments: 72 | Text size: A | A

Ricky Ponting leaves the field after being dismissed, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 1st day, November 9, 2011
Will John Inverarity's panel make the hard call on Ricky Ponting, who hasn't made a Test century since January 2010? © AFP
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A tall, thin man has been loitering at Australia's training sessions in Johannesburg, hovering on the fringes and occasionally chatting with players. He casts a long shadow in every way. He is John Inverarity, the new national selector. And in a week's time, he will begin determining the fate of Australia's cricketers.

On the face of it, the Johannesburg Test for Australia is about levelling the series, about redeeming themselves after the three-day horror show in Cape Town. And that is important: Australia must win to avoid their fourth series loss to South Africa in the 109 years since the teams first met.

But the ramifications of this Test could be much more far-reaching. There are players whose careers could be on the line during this match. Within ten days of this Test finishing, the players will take the field at the Gabba to do battle with New Zealand.

It is a fascinating time. Will Inverarity's panel make the hard call on Ricky Ponting, who hasn't made a Test century since January 2010? If they do, will they make it immediately, ahead of the New Zealand series? Or will a hundred at the Wanderers save Ponting?

Will they persist with Brad Haddin, a major culprit in the Cape Town capitulation? Will they keep choosing Mitchell Johnson on the basis that he is occasionally a match-winner? What do they think of Phillip Hughes, a project of Andrew Hilditch's panel but a man whose home-baked technique makes him vulnerable to criticism?

On Tuesday, a most intriguing discussion was taking part in the middle of the Wanderers ground. The participants were Inverarity, soon to be the national selector but without a vote at the selection table for this Test; Hilditch, the acting chairman of selectors, who after this match is nothing but an Adelaide solicitor; Troy Cooley, the stand-in coach and temporary tour selector; and the captain Michael Clarke, the only constant in the group.

Usman Khawaja will replace the injured Shaun Marsh at the Wanderers and Pat Cummins could come in to make his debut but widespread changes are unlikely. They could come soon afterwards. It cannot be easy for the players to put aside questions over their own immediate futures, but Clarke believes they will manage.

"It's not about personal performances, everyone is in different positions in regards to if guys are playing for their spot or whatever guys are thinking mentally," Clarke said. "At the end of the day, it's not about individual performances, it's about this team having success. It was great to see at the first session, blokes are doing that, putting the team first."

 
 
At 30, Johnson is at the age where, if he is dropped in the near future, it will not be easy to fight back quickly. Clarke wants Johnson in the team as a potential match-winner, but every day that he fails to hit his straps, he essentially leaves Clarke a bowler short.
 

The problem was that few men did that in Cape Town. Clarke's first-innings century and Marsh's accompanying innings were fine examples of batsmen playing not for personal pride but gritting their teeth and fighting for the team. Nobody did that in the second innings as Australia were bowled out for 47, their lowest total in 109 years.

"It's an important Test for us as a team for a little bit of redemption and to show our character and to show our desire to play for Australia," Clarke said. "There is nothing more important as a batsman than putting value on your wicket so that's my goal as a batter.

"I'm going to take things one ball at a time and back myself and play my way, but I will put a hell of a lot of value on my wicket because I don't want to give up easily without a fight. Our bowlers have to work hard to make sure they are disciplined in hitting their areas."

One man who didn't do that at Newlands was Johnson. At 30, Johnson is at the age where, if he is dropped in the near future, it will not be easy to fight back quickly. Clarke wants Johnson in the team as a potential match-winner, but every day that he fails to hit his straps, he essentially leaves Clarke a bowler short.

At the Wanderers in early 2009, Johnson collected eight wickets for the match and swung the ball enough in the early stages to put doubt in the minds of the batsmen. He bowled in a similar fashion in the tour match in Potchefstroom a fortnight ago and is expected to play in Johannesburg despite an almost wicketless performance in Cape Town.

"I'm full of praise for Mitchy," Clarke said. "I've said for a long time, he's an unbelievable athlete. He's got potential ... well, potential is not the right word. He's played for long enough. His statistics show how good a bowler he is. He's scored a Test match hundred. He's one hell of a player, but we need him to be at his best."

And if he's not, Inverarity will be watching.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by purposeful on (November 19, 2011, 17:04 GMT)

okay then, if i had been the aussie selector then it goes like this david warner for phil hughes, callum ferguson for ponting, mitchell starc(left arm quick) for johnson, hilfenhaus for siddle and finally mathew wade for haddin. SIMPLE!

Posted by Meety on (November 18, 2011, 10:58 GMT)

@abhinavpraneet - bring it on, Oz have a few young 150kph fellas lining up to cut him in two! He's too old!

Posted by   on (November 18, 2011, 4:50 GMT)

wish Chris Rogers 5 years younger and born in sri lanka...he is the man to open rather than clueless Hughes.. what a waste of talent..so sad

Posted by SultanBaba on (November 17, 2011, 18:03 GMT)

It's not John Inverarity, rather it's the author who wants Ponting out of the squad so badly. Has anyone noticed how many similar kinds of topics this author wrote over the last couple of weeks! It's all about Ponting and his lack run or centuries, blah, blah... I am sick and tired of reading such negative columns and I am sure so are many readers are as well. This is absolutely ridiculous and ungrateful saying such things about a cricketer and his form who has given so much to the game of cricket and who still has so much left to offer. Ups and downs are just part of games and players. We all know it, why doesn't this author get it! Instead of providing positive feedback and encouragement, people like this writer are pounding with negativity and hopelessness. I am sure Ponting or anyone who goes through this rough patch will rise to the occasion as they have in the past.

Posted by Murtaza. on (November 17, 2011, 17:43 GMT)

I do not think that India are giving chances to youngsters...just look at the age of Tendulker, Dravid and Laxman are they still young? I think Ponting can Still play specialy in India against weaker bowling. so Please... they know what to do.

Posted by muski on (November 17, 2011, 15:51 GMT)

Well Well- What is India -Aussie series without Ponting. I hope he gets a last lease of life to battle it out with the Indians. Iam sure the God and the Wall would like to play with the man who is often compared to them- while they have put all comparisons to rest with the superlative performances. Having seen what has happened in England, Iam not sure how our jumping jacks in the lower middle order handle the menu thrown at them. Notwithstanding that, let us watch the 3 batsmen who according to me have been the greatest after the Don, Sobers and Lara.

Posted by vishalnaik1982 on (November 17, 2011, 13:55 GMT)

gary dude check your facts right.sachin had to play with far worse team than ponting is doing right now.well regarding ponting i would hate if player like him is dropped out of team.i would rather like to have a honourable exit for him from international cricket

Posted by S4CHIN_IS_GOD on (November 17, 2011, 13:09 GMT)

@ Gary. R U Serious mate? WHAT SACHIN HAS DONE? MAY BE YOU GO WATCH INDIA PLAY TEST OR ODI IN AUSTRALIA. WHEN SACHINE SCORES HUNDRED OR EVEN GET OUT, PEOPLE GIVE HIM STANDING OVATION. WHY? MUTUAL RESPECT FOR BEING GREAT. RICKY PONTING NEVER GOING TO GET THAT. WHY? HE WILL NEVER BE REMEBERED FOR HIS TEAMWORK ONLY FOR HIS PERSONEL GOALS. LOOSING 2 ASHES SERIES AWAY AND 1 AT HOME. LIST GO ON AND ON. As an Indian I respected Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, never Ricky Ponting. SACHIN LOST MANY MATCHES, BUT THROUGH HIS SKILLS WON ANY HEARTS. RICKY WON MANY MATCHES, BUT LOST THE RESPECT THROUGH HIS UNSPORTSMANSHIP.

Posted by Flat_Pitch_Bully on (November 17, 2011, 12:31 GMT)

Guys lay off Gary pl, he is an Aussie and can't help himself... Meanwhile, Cummins seems to be bowling well, so i guess once he turns 30 he can come back and be a permanent member of the Aussie squad (Remember Hussye n Hayden and a few more)... Now all CA has to do is fill the gap for 12 years! Hurray 1 prob solved!! Get the confetti out!!

Posted by   on (November 17, 2011, 12:05 GMT)

Given that the Argus Review emphasised rewarding performance, you'd have to say that Mitchell Johnson's inconsistency should cost him his spot (he is leaking runs even as I type this). Haddin, too, has under-performed. Given that there is the in form Matthew Wade in the wings, it seems especially ridiculous to not drop Haddin.

I do think that Hughes cops a huge amount of undeserved criticism. He only recently scored a century in Sri Lanka. Give him a break!

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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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