Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 6, 2014

Quiet in build-up, SA prepare for test of character

Australia have been the bigger talkers in the build-up to the Test series, while South Africa have attempted to send a message with their relative silence

"We're going to water that pitch right now."

Russell Domingo was in a jovial mood and obviously joking when he made the above suggestion at the end of South Africa's three-day practice match against members on the fringes of the Test squad. Australia are going to use the surface for the next two days, in an intra-squad game of their own to make up for losing their tour match, and South Africa's coach made his jab in jest.

In the end, it would not have mattered what South Africa did to the surface. A typically fierce Highveld thunderstorm broke over Corlett Drive in the late afternoon. Management at the Wanderers warned on Monday that, because of the high levels of the water table given the previous days' downpours, play would not be possible if any more rain fell.

Illovo, the suburb in which the ground is located, remained dry throughout Tuesday and Wednesday and just as South Africa were done, the heavens opened. Whether Australia get on the field tomorrow will depend on how much drainage was able to take place and whether the clouds clear.

The sequence of events, and its apparent bias in favour of the home side, is enough to make anyone chuckle, so it was no surprise Domingo was in such good spirits. His team had had a decent run around, his new No. 4 had scored a century, two of his three frontline seamers had been incisive, and the third, Dale Steyn, was "easing into it and showing the right signs". There was nothing he needed to be concerned about, least of all the jabs coming from the other side.

"We are fully aware a lot has been said and we're fully aware that we haven't said much and we're happy with that," Domingo said. "You can't play all your shots before the Test match, you've got to wait for the game to start."

Australia have been the bigger talkers in the build-up to this series. Their captain declared their attack was the best in the world; one of their leading seamers, Peter Siddle, warned Graeme Smith he could come under attack; and arguably their most aggressive batsman, David Warner, indicated Robin Peterson should prepare for a pasting.

South Africa's responses have been limited to Smith saying they would sift through the "bull dot dot dot", Allan Donald predicting Dale Steyn would be a factor, which is hardly anything new, and Domingo calling Peterson "mentally, one of the toughest cricketers I have worked with".

In their relative silence, South Africa have sent a message - that they will not be pushed around and that they are pretty amused by Australia's attempts to try. "All the noise is coming from them. There's no need for us to get involved in this kind of thing," AB de Villiers said. "We know Australia have had some recent success..."

Then, he stopped himself. "Now I sound like Michael Clarke, 'did South Africa beat India? Really?'" he joked. The journalist who posed the question about the verbal slanging had to ask. "But you know the Ashes result was 5-0?"

"Really?" answered de Villiers with mock incredulity. "Yeah, of course. We've kept an eye but we've also been focused on ourselves. We will do everything we can and that's it. I think we've really peaked in the last two years and we've started playing our best cricket."

South Africa have not registered a home series win against Australia since readmission, last losing to them in 2008-9, a series that de Villiers identified as having come "just before we started playing our best cricket". Their record since then has been flawless. South Africa are undefeated across 14 series and, of those, they won eight. "When we got to No. 1 this time, we really thought we were at a level where we can dominate for the next five or ten years," de Villiers said.

To achieve that, South Africa believe they have to be above their competitors in all respects, including verbal slanging matches. Against Australia, watching their tongues is particularly important to them. "We've just got to have focus and calm," Domingo said. "We can't control what's happening in their camp, what happened with their game or what they're saying."

But what South Africa can do is come up with a plan of their own, which involves a mental strategy above anything else. "To beat Australia, you have to show a lot of character because if they get on top of you, they can be difficult to stop," Domingo said. "They can be abrasive and quite cocky. We will have to show a lot of character under pressure because there will be pressure moments; it's a big series."

So far, that demonstration of temperament has led to South Africa playing a silent role. But they have promised to do their talking on the field. Come Wednesday next week, it will become clearer whose voices are loudest.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amrantha on February 7, 2014, 15:18 GMT

    All these mind games makes it more interesting ......but if AUS go down then it'll be quite embarrassing .....

  • Neil on February 7, 2014, 14:24 GMT

    @StaalBurgher: Yes, Duminy's test career has not lived up to expectations so far. On the other hand, over the last 2 years his average is a fraction over 40, so it's not like he's been diabolical. There was a time when that sort of average would have made him the mainstay of the team - Jonty Rhodes went on for years with a sub-40 average, for instance. Hansie Cronje *captained* the side without ever averaging 40. It's actually a great sign of how far South Africa has come that Duminy finds his place under pressure.

  • Gerald on February 7, 2014, 11:01 GMT

    Duminy is becoming the new Ramprakash. All talent but no results at international level. If he is injured I am not overly worried. He has contributed very little to the Test cause over the past 18 months. A new batsmen can hardly do worse and might even do better.

  • Brett on February 7, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    As a Saffa, I can quite comfortably say, we dont want you either KP. Great player no doubt, but skill is not everything in cricket. Temperament counts as well, and temperament is what KP lacks consistency in. Enjoy the merc work KP.

  • Xiong on February 7, 2014, 8:19 GMT

    @Virgil Insecurities? Nah, I don't think so, the Australian team always talks up a storm. If anything I would say that this is the least amount of talking I've heard Australia do in my lifetime leading into a huge series. No real cheap shots either. If you actually read the responses to the questions (Yes, people are asking the Australian team questions and they are giving answers, they aren't wandering around yelling about it off their own back) they all show respect. Even Warner in regards to Peterson, and lets face it, if Warner is facing Peterson at any stage during this series Australia are probably doing ok in that match given that he's our opening batsman.

    Seems more the English/South Africans that want to blow the responses out of proportion. What are Australia supposed to say? I think our batting sucks and our bowling unit is hit or miss so we're probably going to get creamed, but at least we can fit in some diving with sharks.

    Would you really prefer that?

  • Warren on February 7, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    I feel the pressure is on Australia. Other than what happened in the last Ashes they have been through a bad patch for close on three years now. The more news and fall out coming our way after the Ashes one can be tempted to believe that the story may well have been more about an England collapse, rather than an Aussie resurgence. SA may well roll over them and confirm what I think is being proven more and more by the press, that England were managed poorly, mentally beaten early on and didn't know how or even care to get out of it. You look at the gap SA has opened up on the rankings and you feel that the reason behind it is simple ... there is a major gap right now. Top three bowlers are ranked higher, 4 or so 50 + averaging batters. If there is a surprise it will surely be that ... a surprise.

  • jan on February 7, 2014, 7:04 GMT

    It must be an easy choice for the selectors i think. If Duminy's not fit for the test they have to pick the upcoming star of Proteas Cricket, Quinton de Kock. My team will look like this: Smith, Peterson, Amla, Faf, AB, de Kock or Duminy, Robbie P, Philander, Parnell, Steyn and Morkel. With de Kock you can always replace AB with the gloves if the need is there. SA will take the series with no doubt. Will be good cricket to watch and more exciting to see the big mouth Aussies go back down under with their tails between their legs!!!!!

  • Corne on February 7, 2014, 6:07 GMT

    All the talk in the world is not going to make Australia or even South Africa win this series.

    Both have good bowling units, Australia believes their spinner (Lyon with a bowling average of 32) is going to be the difference against (Peterson with a bowling average of 36)

    Whereas in the batting department, Australia believes the loss of Kallis (Who averaged 25 in his last year) is going to make a significant enough impact on South Africa's batting line up where their top six average way more than the Australian top 6.

  • Kelum on February 7, 2014, 5:51 GMT

    Wonder if KP can now qualify for SA, he'd be a crack No4 since Kallis has retired, has a good 2-3 years more until Faf can find his test feet :-D

  • Andre on February 7, 2014, 5:14 GMT

    As always, all you just need a little perspective: a specialist batsman who averages 40 smirks at the no 1 ranked bowler in the word - who averages 18 with more than 100 wickets. You simply have to smile - the same smile you break out when your 4 year old son boldly predicts that he will win a Winter Olympics medal one day (we live in SA) (not gonna happen).

    When these noises used to come from guys like Warne they could be taken seriously and had an effect. Now it just seems desperate and kinda sad.

    One simply cannot shake the feeling that the Aussies keep repeating the same lines hoping that they will come true through repetition. Also, their best bowler is such a confidence player that everyone in the squad (and the media, for that matter) needs to constantly stoke his ego in the hope that he retains his confidence from the Ashes. As I said, desperate and kinda sad.

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