Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 10, 2014

Kallis replacement could hold key to series


Somewhere between Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, Australia will post a big partnership that none of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will be able to break. They will get frustrated or tired or both. The person whom Graeme Smith hands the ball when that happens could end up playing a defining role in the series.

In the past, that person was Jacques Kallis. Think back to Australia's tour to South Africa in 2008-09. After beating South Africa by 162 runs in Johannesburg, Australia were piling on the pain in the second Test in Durban. Phil Hughes and Simon Katich's opening stand had ballooned to 184.

Kallis was in the midst of his second spell. He pitched one short and wide - an innocuous ball really - and Hughes could not resist. He went for the cut and Neil McKenzie collected the catch at gully.

The rest of that match was forgettable for both Kallis and South Africa. Kallis was struck on the jaw by Mitchell Johnson, who also broke Smith's hand for the second time earlier that day. Kallis scored 22 in the first innings and 93 in the second. Still, South Africa lost the match by 175 runs and the series as a result. They are yet to beat Australia in a home series since readmission.

Kallis' Test retirement late last year means he will not be part of a South African side that could change that pattern. But the person who takes his place could be. By implication, that person could be one of the most discussed players in this series and one of the most important for South Africa.

The South African management and players have taken great pains to repeat as often as they can that Kallis is not being replaced because that is impossible. So it helps that the new entrant into the XI will not at No.4. That is Faf du Plessis' job and he has already proved he deserves it.

After his maiden century in Adelaide, he showed his ability to bat time and bat in a bubble, just like Kallis. Despite a lean patch throughout 2013, he cemented his spot with another match-saving century, against India. He will be a man Australia want to remove, especially with memories of November 2012 still fresh, but he may not be their main focus.

Instead, it will either be Wayne Parnell or Ryan McLaren whom Australia identify as a candidate to exploit. Neither has played much Test cricket - Parnell has played three Tests, McLaren one - and neither has played much long-form cricket recently. They only played one first-class match each this summer.

Although they have credentials - Parnell is quick, offers the left-armer variation in angle and is an aggressive bat, while McLaren is more of what you see is what you get, and what you get is reliability - neither would have been expected to play a key role in a series of this magnitude before. The sense of occasion may be the first thing they need to overcome to avoid being overwhelmed and that will be the second major talking point.

Allan Donald said the South African camp last felt this buzz when they played England for the No.1 ranking in July 2012. South Africa have prepared for this series in a similar way too. Then, they spent time in Switzerland bonding over bungee jumping; now they had a bush retreat to help them reconnect and do their bit to save the rhinos.

Hashim Amla called the feeling "no different," to any other series against Australia, and that is the point. Any series against Australia is different by itslef, as almost every other player who has spoken to the media has explained. They call Australia the team they find toughest to tussle with. They describe Australia's players as competitive, as players who play the game hard on the field and whom they enjoy having a drink with off it. There's a sense of camaraderie between the squads but banter is still a given. Both have helped hype this up as a clash of the titans.

When Australia lost the Ashes 3-0 in England, some of the talk in South Africa was that they would be easy picking come this tour. South Africans watched from afar as Australia gained momentum. For once, they had reason to celebrate the Australian rise because it signaled the team would come to South Africa ready for a fight instead of still being in their rebuilding phase.

Now that Australia have actually arrived a fully formed product, there are some nerves too. Johnson is back and more menacing than he was when he sent Smith to the surgeon. Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle complete their trio of quicks. The battle of the bowlers appears a tight one to call in the lead-up, which means the batsmen will have all it all to do. That is where South Africa feel they have the advantage.

Although Australia's batsmen between them scored 10 centuries in the 5-0 whitewash of England, they are still seen as over-reliant on Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin. With Shane Watson out of the first Test and a worry for the rest of the series, that leaves them even more vulnerable. On South African pitches, which have considerable sideways movement particularly when compared to Australia's, the home side believes the advantage could be skewed their way.

But Australia insist the absence of Kallis could change that. A 13000-run sized hole would deplete any batting line-up. Somewhere between Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town in the next month, South Africa may also discover whether and how quickly they can fill that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • A.J on February 11, 2014, 23:01 GMT

    I think the game will be won and lost on weak links.

    Australia - Phil Hughes, Smith, Lyon and Rogers are not yet established players.

    SA: A Peterson, Du Plessis, Duminy and R Peterson are all yet to prove themselves over a long period.

    Duminy's batting average goes done every year.

  • Xiong on February 11, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    @AltafPatel Your understanding seems pretty limited. The currently settled (until Watson did a Watson) Australian lineup is not the same as the ones that played both of those series', especially in regards to some of the key players. Also England produced some slow turners to assist Swann, and India is admittedly not where we play our best cricket. If you think those results are fair comparisons to what is coming up you're sorely mistaken.

    There's a reason that SA have never beaten Aus in SA since re-inception but in the same period beat Australia in Australia. It's because the conditions are very similar and suit both sides. It's all good and well to look at recent form, but some of your assumptions based on what happened in England and India are pretty farcical. Especially the ones in India, pretty different side and the conditions are so far apart they are not comparable in any way, shape or form. The home Ashes is actually the most comparable conditions to what's coming up next.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    The more i look at the teams the more SA firm up as favourites. Our batting looks fragile - more then usual.To be competitive i suspect that one of our openers, probably Rogers will have to be in the form of their lives. Clarke is due for runs but will need some help. Smith and Haddin cannot continually saving Aust, and the newcomers - Hughes, Marsh etc...we will have to have our fingers crossed with them. Having never beaten Aust at home since readmission we might well see SA fire up and play some of their very best cricket.

  • creebo on February 11, 2014, 11:55 GMT

    Both parnell and mclaren should play tomorrow , pitch doesnt suit spin much...all pace attack,

  • Xiong on February 11, 2014, 11:54 GMT

    Just want to add that I think the headline of this article is ridiculous. In my opinion even if you just removed Kallis entirely and didn't replace him, and just left SA with a substitute fielder to make up the 11 I still think they'd have a far superior and consistent batting lineup despite being one short, and obviously the bowling lineups would pretty much a dead heat (I refer only to my impossible example). Given that, how can the replacement for Kallis be the key to the series? t's simply not possible. The remaining 10 should be enough to defeat Australia in a 3 test series, such is the gulf in batting. If SA do lose the series it will have taken a mighty effort from Australia no matter who takes Kallis' place, or even if nobody did.

    I think SA have the enviable position Aus did when they ran rampant. A spare slot to blood a new young player and give him a decent run regardless of results, even if he fails for 20 tests, without really risking top spot or series wins.

  • Altaf on February 11, 2014, 11:53 GMT

    McLarren and deKock are in excellent form now a days. Wish both of them get chance and wish neither Duminy nor Parnel get the chance.

  • Altaf on February 11, 2014, 11:52 GMT

    @Vinay Kolhatkar It's true Albie was good player but his time is up, particularly for longer formats including ODIs as well. He is good for IPL, T20s but not for other formats.

  • Altaf on February 11, 2014, 11:51 GMT

    Smith hadn't made any verbal statement against Aus that means they are completely prepared, confident and mentally very strong. Though Aus won 5-0 in Ashes, their away record is not supporting them like losing 0-3 in Eng and 0-4 whitewash in India not more than a year ago.

  • Altaf on February 11, 2014, 11:49 GMT

    Though deKock wasn't in plan for tests till WC 2014, sudden retirement of Kallis and big series against in-form Australia means to include him particularly when Duminy has been completely unsure of form. I wish they drop Duminy and take some veteran like Rudolph, Prince etc.

  • Keiran on February 11, 2014, 11:39 GMT

    @Testcricketistop - Domingo and Smith have quite a limited say in the squad selection - but a much bigger say in the final 11. I believe there input into the squad is more based around what kind of players they want and they dont get to select who those are. But from the squad they have the primary say in the final side. (Thats my understanding anyway).

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