Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 9, 2014

Tourists confront fortress Centurion

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As Australia's touring party wrestled with the changes to be forced by Shane Watson's absence from the Test team, they also had cause to glance furtively at another obstacle looming in the distance. To win a three-match series, a strong result in the first encounter is close to non-negotiable, and over two decades the task of doing so against South Africa at SuperSport Park has proven near enough to impossible.

In 18 Tests since its debut in a draw with England in 1995, Centurion has witnessed 14 victories for the hosts, three draws and only one defeat, to Nasser Hussain's tourists in 2000. That this lone loss was a result contrived by Hansie Cronje for reasons other than "making a game of it" says much for how strong South Africa's hold has been, bearing comparison with Australia's supreme record at the Gabba over the same period.

Much like Brisbane's tendency to catch under-prepared touring teams on a surface offering pace, bounce and movement to Australia's fast men, Centurion has been characterised by the dominance of South Africa's quicks in the rarefied air of the Highveld. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander would not choose to bowl anywhere else.

There are few happy memories for Australia, either. The one Test match they have played at the ground was a dead rubber in 1997, after Mark Taylor's team had won by a wide margin in Johannesburg and a breathlessly narrow one in Port Elizabeth. Allan Donald and Brett Schulz dominated, Australia's batsmen wilted, and Ian Healy was suspended for throwing his bat in reaction to a questionable caught behind dismissal.

On a tour where Michael Clarke's team has already coped with plenty of adversity, whether it be through injury or poor weather, the challenge of overturning the hosts on their happiest of hunting grounds will be a tall one. The opening batsman Chris Rogers, likely to bear the brunt of South Africa's pace barrage, has taken note of the ground's history, but also of his team's buoyant mood.

"We haven't really focused on that particular arena, but we've spoken about other things and we've still got a couple of meetings to go. So I'm sure we'll talk about that," he said. "I've heard these things as well, it will be a big challenge no doubt but one that I think we are ready for.

"Something we've really spoken about this whole trip so far - we've been flooded out of one place and conditions have been a bit difficult in others. But we've kept talking about how we've got to make the most of every opportunity and I think we are. And we're still enjoying it, the guys are still having a laugh and having fun so I think that's going to count."

Any residual feelings of comfort left by his strong conclusion to the Ashes have been kicked out of Rogers by a succession of white-knuckle net sessions. His chest guard has received a considerable pummelling, and first ball in centre-wicket practice at the Wanderers on Saturday a Mitchell Johnson throat ball singed the grille of his helmet.

"That was tough, hopefully it doesn't come any tougher than that, because if it does I'm in trouble," Rogers said with a rueful grin. "But it was a good challenge and sometimes you get a bit worried that one's going to kick at you or something like that, but that's part of the challenge as well, and then you can be happy for the rest of the session.

"I know their attack is going to come hard as well, so I'm expecting plenty of short balls and good pace and good swing as well. There's been some late swing and that's going to make it interesting. I think both batting sides are going to have their work cut out for them but that's part and parcel of Test cricket. Whoever bats the best is going to be in line to win this Test."

To this end the loss of Watson, a batsman capable of dominating the best attacks when he does not allow his front pad to become too prominent, will be felt most keenly. He had been slated to move down the order to No. 6, and his likely replacement would appear to be Phillip Hughes. The inclusion of Hughes and the No. 3-elect Alex Doolan will make for a batting line-up markedly different from the one that stuttered against England.

Moises Henriques and a fresh-off-the-plane Shaun Marsh are the other options for Darren Lehmann and John Inverarity to consider, but neither has been exposed to the best of Australia's bowling in training quite so much as Doolan or Hughes. It would be a considerable departure from early tour planning were either to play, but then Watson has already forced one by his unavailability.

"That throws a bit of a spanner in the works for us, he's been an important player in our side of late, so that's going to cause a few changes but we have to adapt," Rogers said. "Obviously his batting is important to us, but then he can give us a few overs and he catches them at first slip. So that means he's an integral part of our side.

"These things happen and you have to move on quickly, so bad luck to Shane, but whoever comes in hopefully they can do a good job. I think we have good momentum, there's a good feeling among the group and that's going to be important going into this Test. The loss of Shane is going to hurt but I still think there's enough quality in the rest of the side to really perform in this first Test."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on February 11, 2014, 1:41 GMT

    NixNixon, you're kidding yourself. Australia drew the first two tests in Australia last time the two teams met, and were unlucky not to win 2-1. They will not get Destroyed. They may lose two, or even three tests, but they will play a brand of cricket which allows them the chance of victory. Don't be surprised if Australia shock us like they did in the summer!

  • Greatest_Game on February 10, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Ohhh nooooo! The word "Fortress" in the title of a pre series article is really really unlucky! Bad voodoo. It makes Nelson (111) look lucky!

    Back in May 2012, Mark Nicholas penned a piece titled "Welcome to Fortess England," in which he lionised the seemingly (to him) invincible English team, and concluded that they were pretty well unbeatable at home. He concluded his piece saying "That Mace is as safe as a slip catch in the hands of the England captain for a while yet."

    Eng's next match was the first of the series against South Africa, at the Oval. SA declared at 637/2. England could not match that score in 2 innings! Hammered, Eng went on to lose the series, the trophy, the Mace and the England captain, who retired at the end of the series.

    This is not good. It must be made clear that THERE IS NO FORTRESS CENTURION!!! It is just another cricket ground. Enough with that fortress stuff.

  • jimmyvida on February 9, 2014, 16:45 GMT

    So Warner is out. Any one knows if ABD will be ready to play for SA. He may not be playing any cricket at the moment. Does one balance the other?

  • Protea.Titan on February 9, 2014, 15:01 GMT

    @Drew Foster nice try, but your original post just highlighted the 47 comparison scores as a sort of justification. Conveniently omitting your 21. 47 is not a good score, neither is 96, but since sport is dictated by scores, those numbers trump 21 anyday. You should just have said SA made 96, Aus 47, no ifs and buts potshots. My reply was to your SA score for 9 wkts snide, to put things in 'perspective', Aus made 21.

  • ZkAneela on February 9, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    I think SA has good batting lineup than Aus atleast.So all who are saying that Aus has better bowling attack should think about Aus batting as well.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on February 9, 2014, 13:59 GMT

    @Johan Kotze Are they not covering the pitch during all this rain or is that only done once the game starts?

  • B.C.G on February 9, 2014, 13:37 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter,Drew Foster & all the rest.You chaps keep on quoting history.Not bad that.Except the history is only partially quoted.Australia's stunning record in SA is due to 1 ground in particular;The Wanderers which is not in the itinerary this time(thankfully).Instead the 'FORTRESS' Centurion is in.Another bogie ground Durban is also excluded.Instead there is Newlands which seems to be another relative sort of fortress.What's your perspective on that?

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:18 GMT

    To Ozcricketwriter: SA beat Australia 3 to 1 in 1967/68 and 4 zip in 1970/71 in SA. Not that it matters now! I live in Pretoria and stress again there has been a lot of (and still is) rain. The pitch will be extremely dificult even if the grass is cut short with the underground water With such good bowling attacks: GOOD LUCK BATSMEN!

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    I cannot wait for this to begin. Was the only spectatator last week Tuesday when Proteas played their warm up/trial match at the Wanderers. I have said it before and say it again: Centurion had a lot of rain during the past seven days and again last night. Looking out of my window there is still water in the sky. Super Sport Park is notorious for rain during test matches. Even that one of Hansie Cronje that you refer to. So. I am afraid this match is not going to last a full three days with the team wining the toss in pole position. With the two good bowling attacks, good catching is of the essence. That is why Australia lost in 2008 and especially at Melbourne in the second test. SA lost the third in Sydney when Amla dropped Clarke late on day one with 5 wickets down and he then scored a match winning century the next day.

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:02 GMT

    @Protea.Titan The main point I made was that 19 wickets fell for 94 runs in a small period of time so obviously conditions played a huge, huge roll. What's your perspective on that?

  • on February 11, 2014, 1:41 GMT

    NixNixon, you're kidding yourself. Australia drew the first two tests in Australia last time the two teams met, and were unlucky not to win 2-1. They will not get Destroyed. They may lose two, or even three tests, but they will play a brand of cricket which allows them the chance of victory. Don't be surprised if Australia shock us like they did in the summer!

  • Greatest_Game on February 10, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Ohhh nooooo! The word "Fortress" in the title of a pre series article is really really unlucky! Bad voodoo. It makes Nelson (111) look lucky!

    Back in May 2012, Mark Nicholas penned a piece titled "Welcome to Fortess England," in which he lionised the seemingly (to him) invincible English team, and concluded that they were pretty well unbeatable at home. He concluded his piece saying "That Mace is as safe as a slip catch in the hands of the England captain for a while yet."

    Eng's next match was the first of the series against South Africa, at the Oval. SA declared at 637/2. England could not match that score in 2 innings! Hammered, Eng went on to lose the series, the trophy, the Mace and the England captain, who retired at the end of the series.

    This is not good. It must be made clear that THERE IS NO FORTRESS CENTURION!!! It is just another cricket ground. Enough with that fortress stuff.

  • jimmyvida on February 9, 2014, 16:45 GMT

    So Warner is out. Any one knows if ABD will be ready to play for SA. He may not be playing any cricket at the moment. Does one balance the other?

  • Protea.Titan on February 9, 2014, 15:01 GMT

    @Drew Foster nice try, but your original post just highlighted the 47 comparison scores as a sort of justification. Conveniently omitting your 21. 47 is not a good score, neither is 96, but since sport is dictated by scores, those numbers trump 21 anyday. You should just have said SA made 96, Aus 47, no ifs and buts potshots. My reply was to your SA score for 9 wkts snide, to put things in 'perspective', Aus made 21.

  • ZkAneela on February 9, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    I think SA has good batting lineup than Aus atleast.So all who are saying that Aus has better bowling attack should think about Aus batting as well.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on February 9, 2014, 13:59 GMT

    @Johan Kotze Are they not covering the pitch during all this rain or is that only done once the game starts?

  • B.C.G on February 9, 2014, 13:37 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter,Drew Foster & all the rest.You chaps keep on quoting history.Not bad that.Except the history is only partially quoted.Australia's stunning record in SA is due to 1 ground in particular;The Wanderers which is not in the itinerary this time(thankfully).Instead the 'FORTRESS' Centurion is in.Another bogie ground Durban is also excluded.Instead there is Newlands which seems to be another relative sort of fortress.What's your perspective on that?

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:18 GMT

    To Ozcricketwriter: SA beat Australia 3 to 1 in 1967/68 and 4 zip in 1970/71 in SA. Not that it matters now! I live in Pretoria and stress again there has been a lot of (and still is) rain. The pitch will be extremely dificult even if the grass is cut short with the underground water With such good bowling attacks: GOOD LUCK BATSMEN!

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    I cannot wait for this to begin. Was the only spectatator last week Tuesday when Proteas played their warm up/trial match at the Wanderers. I have said it before and say it again: Centurion had a lot of rain during the past seven days and again last night. Looking out of my window there is still water in the sky. Super Sport Park is notorious for rain during test matches. Even that one of Hansie Cronje that you refer to. So. I am afraid this match is not going to last a full three days with the team wining the toss in pole position. With the two good bowling attacks, good catching is of the essence. That is why Australia lost in 2008 and especially at Melbourne in the second test. SA lost the third in Sydney when Amla dropped Clarke late on day one with 5 wickets down and he then scored a match winning century the next day.

  • on February 9, 2014, 13:02 GMT

    @Protea.Titan The main point I made was that 19 wickets fell for 94 runs in a small period of time so obviously conditions played a huge, huge roll. What's your perspective on that?

  • on February 9, 2014, 12:58 GMT

    @Protea.Titan perspective? oh, you mean that 47 is a substantially better return for 9 wickets than 21? lol get some perspective yourself! Neither is a good score!

  • Ozcricketwriter on February 9, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    Oh and PS yes South Africa have beaten Australia in Australia twice in a row. Australia, meanwhile, haven't lost a test series in South Africa since the 1960s. Luckily for Australia, this series is being held in South Africa, making Australia favourites. If it were held in Australia, South Africa would be favourites.

  • RednWhiteArmy on February 9, 2014, 12:44 GMT

    I really, really hope shane warne isnt anywhere near a commentary box for this series.

  • AussiePhoenix on February 9, 2014, 12:40 GMT

    @ TheBigBoodha True. Going to be hard hard work to adjust to condiitons, especailly since no single Oz player has ever played Test at the venue. Consider all teams playing away, highly unlikely they win first test under such circumstances, even if they are really good.

  • on February 9, 2014, 12:13 GMT

    very tough tour for australia, given their fragile top order batting and the pitches where australia have played less cricket.

  • Protea.Titan on February 9, 2014, 12:13 GMT

    @Drew Foster South Africa 9 for 47, Australia lost 9 wickets for 21, so 96 and 47 all out sounds fair to me. A bit of perspective required.

  • vimal03 on February 9, 2014, 12:11 GMT

    Australia's confident, after beating bonless England, is too high against sf. But it is not going to be easy for them. I can't see runs coming from Warner and haddin (if they keep playing aggressively) and SF batsman aren't afrid of short balls from MJ. It will be a tough series for Aussies but SF are far ahead in the test format but will see a competitive t20 series.

  • Protea.Titan on February 9, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    @Sam Whiteman, the rain in the first test adversely affected S.A more than it did Aus, Amla and Kallis were well set, and the lost time changed our batting our approach in search of a result, which cost us wickets, JP didnt even bat cos of injury. In the second test we lost Kallis after he had just taken 2 quick wickets. Your bowlers bowled themselves into the ground in a failed attempt to get SA all out. In Perth Aus was steamrolled. In SA, we won by 8 wickets while Aus hung on by 2 wickets to win the second. Its all just a matter of perspective. Ifs and buts are a pointless excercise cos if my uncle was a woman, he would be my aunt.

  • creebo777 on February 9, 2014, 11:57 GMT

    Agree with Chris rogers pointless going on who the better attack is , both sides can take 20 wickets,brilliant bowlers so the pressure is on the batsmen to deliver

  • creebo777 on February 9, 2014, 11:57 GMT

    Agree with Chris rogers pointless going on who the better attack is , both sides can take 20 wickets,brilliant bowlers so the pressure is on the batsmen to deliver

  • SICHO on February 9, 2014, 11:56 GMT

    I for one wonder whether the Test matches would've lasted for 5 days against them Indians had our pitches being "proper" South African pitches. Bring on the 1st Test and let thee contest begin, with the Aussies running their mouths lets see if they can back it up on the field come Wednesday. Bring it on #pure_Protea

  • TommytuckerSaffa on February 9, 2014, 11:45 GMT

    @Sam Matthews Should've, could've, would've, blah, blah, blah...if, but, when...oh, we lost.

    SA have beaten Australia at home in back to back series TWICE in a row. Next time SA tour Oz, they will be going for 3rd in row. I will say it again so that it sinks in. Next time SA tour Australia they will going for their THIRD series victory in a ROW. And yes, well done, you managed a draw a 2 match series in SA...

    Bring it on, our boys are waiting and looking to respond to all the Post-Ashes self-proclaimed declarations of greatness... I cant wait. Its not long now.

  • on February 9, 2014, 11:34 GMT

    @Barnesy4444 Doolan 3, Hughes 6 seems simpler. Why would you think otherwise? Doolan has been groomed for 3 and Hughes played at 6 in England. @Ozcricketwriter no, it would be a surprise if both Doolan and Hughes didn't play. @ShutTheGate agree completely, hence why Doolan and Hughes will be picked. @NixNixon I don't think you realise Australia have only lost one series in South Africa ever. We did pretty well there last time - don't forget, we may have lost 10/47 but then directly before that SA also lost 9/47... that's an often forgetten fact!

  • Rowayton on February 9, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    NixNixon, I don't think you realise how much weaker South Africa is without Kallis. Mind you, I still think they would be favourites. TheBigBoodha has nailed it about lack of preparation.

  • on February 9, 2014, 10:32 GMT

    @NixNixon - I don't think you realise that this South Africa side is not as far ahead of Australia as you seem to think they are. Let's look at the last 2 tours shall we: In SA, Australia butchered an easy win by being rolled for 40, then responded in the next test to win and draw the series 1-1. Then SA toured Australia: They were saved by a whole day of rain in Brisbane from a flogging by Aus; then in Adelaide Australia dominated once again, only for SA to survive for a draw when Aus lost their top bowler for the entire 4th innings. Then when Aus rotated like 4 players in Perth SA won easily. Final tally, 2-1 to SA. Should have been 3-2 to Aus.

  • PureProteas49 on February 9, 2014, 10:30 GMT

    @TommytuckerSaffa, I am losing my mind here, I am pacing up and down and staring at my Centurion tickets, cant wait, I am full of excitement, PURE PROTEA

  • Ozcricketwriter on February 9, 2014, 10:11 GMT

    Australia have only played 1 test at this venue, some 17 years ago. This is not a negative for them, in terms of unhappy memories, as no player in the current side was playing that game. But this is a positive for South Africa. The big problem for Australia is that they are without Faulkner and now Watson, leaving them 2 players short, and the current squad doesn't contain anyone that can easily replace them. It will likely be Henriques plus one of Doolan, Marsh or Hughes to play, and none of those names sound particularly exciting for Australian fans. This is a very hard juggling act for Australia but, as the article says, they really have to pull it off to be in this series with a chance. They may be better off to go in with 4 fast bowlers and just back their bowlers to decimate South Africa so much that a long tail won't matter.

  • Beertjie on February 9, 2014, 10:01 GMT

    No, @Barnesy4444, given the prep, it's got to be Hughes at #6. Hope he holds on to the flyers coming his way. May need to reprise his Trent Bridge effort to help get a decent score. Dools deserves his chance, but he needs to take it or he'll be history (Quiney?).

  • NixNixon on February 9, 2014, 9:48 GMT

    I dont think Australia realise how good this protea side is. This is a side who have dominated test cricket for the last 4 years. Australia will just be the next team to be destroyed.

  • TheBigBoodha on February 9, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    So Australia go into the first test not having played a single days' cricket in SA. Whose brilliant idea was this? If they pull it off it will be a miracle. They won't be acclimatised till the third test.

  • ShutTheGate on February 9, 2014, 9:35 GMT

    If Centurian is as lively as what people say it is it's likely to be a four day test match.

    Therefore I think Australia can get away with four specialist bowlers. Maybe - Rogers, Warner, Doolan, Clarke, Smith, Hughes, Haddin, Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon.

    That's a stronger batting lineup to what we had during the ashes.

  • Barnesy4444 on February 9, 2014, 9:34 GMT

    Hughes 3, Doolan 6. Seems simple to me.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on February 9, 2014, 9:19 GMT

    Only a couple more days to wait now. Not long. I Love test cricket. As a kid I used to wake up at 3am in the morning to watch the likes of Warne, McGrath, Waugh twins deliver total humiliation to my beloved Saffa team. I watch anyway, as it was a spectacle to behold such skillful players. Times and teams have changed but the attraction still remains.

  • cccrider on February 9, 2014, 9:03 GMT

    Chris 'Buck' Rogers: 'Whoever bats the best is going to be in line to win this Test.'

    The guy's a genius.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • cccrider on February 9, 2014, 9:03 GMT

    Chris 'Buck' Rogers: 'Whoever bats the best is going to be in line to win this Test.'

    The guy's a genius.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on February 9, 2014, 9:19 GMT

    Only a couple more days to wait now. Not long. I Love test cricket. As a kid I used to wake up at 3am in the morning to watch the likes of Warne, McGrath, Waugh twins deliver total humiliation to my beloved Saffa team. I watch anyway, as it was a spectacle to behold such skillful players. Times and teams have changed but the attraction still remains.

  • Barnesy4444 on February 9, 2014, 9:34 GMT

    Hughes 3, Doolan 6. Seems simple to me.

  • ShutTheGate on February 9, 2014, 9:35 GMT

    If Centurian is as lively as what people say it is it's likely to be a four day test match.

    Therefore I think Australia can get away with four specialist bowlers. Maybe - Rogers, Warner, Doolan, Clarke, Smith, Hughes, Haddin, Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon.

    That's a stronger batting lineup to what we had during the ashes.

  • TheBigBoodha on February 9, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    So Australia go into the first test not having played a single days' cricket in SA. Whose brilliant idea was this? If they pull it off it will be a miracle. They won't be acclimatised till the third test.

  • NixNixon on February 9, 2014, 9:48 GMT

    I dont think Australia realise how good this protea side is. This is a side who have dominated test cricket for the last 4 years. Australia will just be the next team to be destroyed.

  • Beertjie on February 9, 2014, 10:01 GMT

    No, @Barnesy4444, given the prep, it's got to be Hughes at #6. Hope he holds on to the flyers coming his way. May need to reprise his Trent Bridge effort to help get a decent score. Dools deserves his chance, but he needs to take it or he'll be history (Quiney?).

  • Ozcricketwriter on February 9, 2014, 10:11 GMT

    Australia have only played 1 test at this venue, some 17 years ago. This is not a negative for them, in terms of unhappy memories, as no player in the current side was playing that game. But this is a positive for South Africa. The big problem for Australia is that they are without Faulkner and now Watson, leaving them 2 players short, and the current squad doesn't contain anyone that can easily replace them. It will likely be Henriques plus one of Doolan, Marsh or Hughes to play, and none of those names sound particularly exciting for Australian fans. This is a very hard juggling act for Australia but, as the article says, they really have to pull it off to be in this series with a chance. They may be better off to go in with 4 fast bowlers and just back their bowlers to decimate South Africa so much that a long tail won't matter.

  • PureProteas49 on February 9, 2014, 10:30 GMT

    @TommytuckerSaffa, I am losing my mind here, I am pacing up and down and staring at my Centurion tickets, cant wait, I am full of excitement, PURE PROTEA

  • on February 9, 2014, 10:32 GMT

    @NixNixon - I don't think you realise that this South Africa side is not as far ahead of Australia as you seem to think they are. Let's look at the last 2 tours shall we: In SA, Australia butchered an easy win by being rolled for 40, then responded in the next test to win and draw the series 1-1. Then SA toured Australia: They were saved by a whole day of rain in Brisbane from a flogging by Aus; then in Adelaide Australia dominated once again, only for SA to survive for a draw when Aus lost their top bowler for the entire 4th innings. Then when Aus rotated like 4 players in Perth SA won easily. Final tally, 2-1 to SA. Should have been 3-2 to Aus.