Uncertain Australia next target for South Africa
Friday, March 4, 2016
Start time 1800 local (1600GMT)
When this season started, South Africans would not have guessed the most enjoyable part would come at the end. After back-to-back Test series defeats, which would have taken supporters by surprise, the limited-overs' squads have put smiles on faces with their feisty performances. The T20 side has even raised hope.
After winning three of their last four series, Faf du Plessis' team seems to have ticked all the boxes and thoughts of a trophy will not be too far away. But before South Africans allow themselves to dream of anything like that, they will want to see how their team goes against a side that has often proved to be their nemesis.
Although South Africa and Australia have not met at the last two global tournaments and will not meet at this one until at least semi-final stage, South Africans still use Australia as a yardstick. If they can beat their old enemy, South Africa will consider themselves ready to take on the world. If they lose to them, the confidence built up over the last few months will be crushed.
Australia know how much influence they can have on this South Africa side and will use that to try and imprint as much doubt into their minds as possible. At the same time, Australia need to create certainties for themselves after falling behind in this format.
They have only played eight matches in this format since the last World T20 and are coming off a whitewash at the hands of India but they have beefed their squad up since that defeat. They are in South Africa to show how much stronger they can be and Kingsmead will have a full house as witness.
(last five completed games most recent first)
South Africa WWWWL
In the spotlight
If you believe Russell Domingo and Faf du Plessis, someone should feed Dale Steyn. Both the coach and the captain have described their premier paceman as "hungry," but the only thing he wants his fill of is wickets. Steyn has spent the last two months watching cricket from the stands, surfing and spending time with his dogs, all while recovering from a shoulder injury. He resumed bowling with his team-mates in the nets two weeks ago, played his first competitive cricket five days ago and will now make his international comeback. Steyn has to get through these matches in order to part of South Africa's travelling party to the World T20 but all the talk is that Steyn is not just looking to get through, but to make a few breakthroughs as well.
At the start of this year, Steven Smith was not even a regular in Australia's T20 squad. Now, he is their captain. Smith's rise is complete. He leads Australia in all three formats and has the chance to take them to their first victory in a World T20 - the only global trophy Australia have not won. Smith will have to bring together a squad rejigged at the last moment but, on paper at least, includes hard-hitting batsmen, aggressive bowlers and exciting spinners. Now, it's to see what their captain can do with that.
Du Plessis has suggested South Africa will play their first-choice team for the series opener which means that even though they will give Quinton de Kock a chance to open the batting with AB de Villiers, it may not be in this match. Steyn is also certain to make a return which could mean no space for Kyle Abbott unless one of the allrounders sits out.
South Africa: 1 Hashim Amla, 2 AB de Villiers (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis (capt), 4 JP Duminy, 5 David Miller, 6 Rilee Rossouw, 7 Chris Morris, 8 David Wiese, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Imran Tahir
Sydney team-mates Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson are likely to open the batting for Australia which may mean no space for Aaron Finch. The top order will be strengthened by Smith and David Warner followed by Glenn Maxwell. Adam Zampa is struggling with a stomach bug and missed Thursday's training, which may give Ashton Agar a T20 debut.
Australia: 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Steven Smith (capt), 4 David Warner, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 James Faulkner, 7 Mitchell Marsh, 8 Peter Nevill (wk), 9 Andrew Tye/John Hastings, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Ashton Agar/Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
Smith asked South Africa's groundsmen to prepare pitches that resembled subcontinental strips and that may be exactly what he is getting. The Kingsmead surface is said to be slow and will take turn which could mean a low total. Although locals are talking about the rain, the forecast is clear with the evening game meaning temperatures would have cooled from the mid-30s to the upper 20s by the time the match starts. Humidity will remain high, at close to 90%.
Stats and trivia
- While Australia are No.1 in Test and ODI cricket, they lie seventh on the T20. South Africa are in second place.
- However, Australia have the upper hand over South Africa in the format. They have won nine of the 14 completed matches between the two sides, including their only meeting at a World T20 in 2012 in Colombo.
- Smith has captained Australia once before in T20s - against England at Cardiff - where he made 90
"It looks like we're ticking all the boxes as a team. There's no area in our team where I feel it's a weakness. I feel every gap has been plugged and that's very nice to have."
Faf du Plessis
"We want to win every series that we play, hopefully some guys get some runs and take some wickets and we'll put on a good fielding display before the World T20 in a week's time."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent