South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth February 19, 2014

South Africa's record under threat


Match facts

February 20-24, Port Elizabeth
Start time 1030 local (0830GMT)

'Is there an anti-Mitch pitch?'

Big Picture

"I truly believe that the wicket played a big role in the success that he had. The stats, even in the Ashes, say that he picked up a lot of lower-order wickets." So said Graeme Smith of Mitchell Johnson after the Centurion Test. Perhaps to Smith denial is just a river in the north of his continent. Johnson picks up a lot of lower-order wickets, but he picks up a lot of wickets full stop. Top, middle, bottom. Notably he removed Smith and his opening partner Alviro Petersen in both innings in Centurion. And while Port Elizabeth may offer up a slightly less helpful pitch, Johnson showed during the Ashes Test in Adelaide that he is more than capable of extracting life out of a seemingly unresponsive surface.

And, let's face it, it's all about Johnson at the moment. If he keeps going in his current direction, he will bowl Australia to yet another series win in South Africa. If his pace slips or he loses consistency, South Africa may find a way back into the series. If that seems too simplistic, it can be conceded that there are other factors at play. It is just that Johnson has the power to render most of them irrelevant. Not all of them, though. What he cannot significantly impact is South Africa's own bowling, and they need a lift from Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. Where South Africa could fight back is if they keep Australia's runs low.

South Africa in recent years have displayed a remarkable ability to avoid clumps of losses, but last time they were defeated in two consecutive Tests it was by Australia, in South Africa five years ago, during a series in which Johnson had a major impact. It was also the last time they lost any Test series, anywhere. Unless they turn things around in Port Elizabeth, that drought will be broken.

Form guide

(last five completed games most recent first)

South Africa LWDWL
Australia WWWWW

In the spotlight

AB de Villiers showed in Centurion why he is the No.1-ranked Test batsman in the world. He was the only South African who consistently looked comfortable against Johnson, top scoring in both innings and almost reaching a century in the first. But batting at No.5 means de Villiers may run out of partners if Johnson continues to terrorise the lower order, so it will be interesting to see how South Africa use him through the rest of the series, and whether his wicketkeeping duties will have any adverse effect on his batting.

Alex Doolan might have missed out on a century on debut but his work with the bat and in the field showed that he belongs at Test level. Composed at the crease and classy in his strokeplay, Doolan gradually became more confident during his second-innings 89 but also showed a willingness to leave the ball and make the bowlers come to him. At short-leg he was outstanding in the second innings, clutching two reflex catches that would have had some players flinching. All in all, it was an encouraging start.

Team news

Ryan McLaren has been ruled out after being concussed by a Johnson bouncer and that leaves South Africa with the choice of another bowling allrounder or a specialist batsman to replace him. Wayne Parnell would be the closest to a like-for-like swap but Dean Elgar would bolster a batting line-up that was bruised and browbeaten by Johnson in Centurion. There is also the possibility that both Elgar and Parnell will come in and the spinner Robin Peterson could be left out. South Africa have also added Quinton de Kock to the squad as cover for Alviro Petersen, who has a viral infection.

South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen / Quinton de Kock, 3 Hashim Amla 4 Faf du Plessis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 JP Duminy, 7 Dean Elgar, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Vernon Philander, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel.

Australia are unlikely to make any changes given that Shane Watson is still unavailable due to his calf problem and the two batsmen who came in to the side in Centurion, Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan, both performed beyond expectations.

Australia (probable) 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Alex Doolan, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Steven Smith, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Nathan Lyon.

Pitch and conditions

The Port Elizabeth pitch is renowned for being on the slow side but a thick covering of grass remained a couple of days out from the Test, giving some hope that there could be assistance for the fast bowlers. The forecast suggests there could be rain at times during the match with temperatures generally in the mid 20s.

Stats and trivia

  • Since he was recalled for the first Ashes Test in November, Johnson has taken 49 wickets at an average of 13.14 from six Tests with a strike-rate of a wicket every 27.1 balls

  • Johnson is only the second Australian after Shane Warne to reach the double of 250 Test wickets and 1500 runs

  • Only once since South Africa's readmission have they played Australia in a Test in Port Elizabeth, the famous 1997 match that Ian Healy won with a six

  • Remarkably, Australia have won six consecutive Tests and lost six consecutive Tests in the past 12 months - the losses having come in India and England


"We've lacked a bit in real competitive cricket coming into this series. It's a quick turnaround and we have to adjust well to play winning cricket in Port Elizabeth."
Graeme Smith

"I think if the wicket stays like it is it will be a three-dayer, expecially with two fantastic bowling attacks. So I don't think it will stay like that."
Michael Clarke

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Craig on February 20, 2014, 8:30 GMT

    @SLslider. Lololololololololololol I will remember your name :)

  • disco on February 20, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    I can't believe it, SA already are making excuses and they haven't even started. Philander has a 'niggle'. Give me a break.

  • disco on February 20, 2014, 8:14 GMT

    Australia will be bowling whoever wins the toss.

  • Android on February 20, 2014, 8:13 GMT

    @SLslider hahaha idk if aussies get whitewashed or not but Sri Lanka is in hot waters w Bangladesh breathing down their neck. Pakistan also pulled off a record 5th day chase against them. and you are hoping for a whitewash man. what up w that?

  • shyam on February 20, 2014, 8:09 GMT

    SLslider are ust showing your frastration on your begging cricket board..chill out ...any day ..ausie are better than srilanka..i can show no. of games where australia humiliated srilanka inside srilanka..but can you show one test win for srilanka inside australia :)

  • shyam on February 20, 2014, 8:06 GMT

    y only alvero..y not duminy...still dnt know the contribution of duminy and his co brother rohith sharma in cricket :)

  • disco on February 20, 2014, 8:06 GMT

    @SLslider, SL couldn't win a single match when we last played you guys and we won the series at your home, so where does the big talk come from?

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2014, 8:05 GMT

    Its laughable that subcontinent fans of India/Sri Lanka are on here commenting on how Aus and SA will be torn apart on the subcontinent. SA haven't lost a series in years, home and away, and Australia are really starting to look the goods. Why don't you pop on over and comment on the games that involve your teams, and stay there? I am an AUS fan and want to see a good hard fought contest in PE, between both bat and ball, it would be great to see a result come late on day 5! Clarke for MOTM

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    target aussies batting and keep them to a low score...coz Johnson is having the time of his life..and definitely this one be a thriller to watch for sure.. cricket is the winner afterall.. good luck both teams

  • Clifford on February 20, 2014, 7:55 GMT

    If you want an easy run against Johnson, bat at number 10. Here are his wickets since the beginning of the Ashes in Australia.

    26 top order dismissals (1-6), 23 lower order (7-11).

    LHS batting order - RHS number of dismissals

    1 - 6 2 - 5 3 - 4 4 - 3 5 - 4 6 - 4 7 - 6 8 - 6 9 - 4 10 - 1 11 - 6

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