<
>

Australia better prepared for first Test - Hussey

AB de Villiers at South Africa's training session Getty Images

Michael Hussey believes Australia will have the advantage in the first Test against a South African side whose key men have not played a first-class match in ten months. Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Mark Boucher have all had no first-class action since the New Year's Test against India, one of the longest lay-offs possible in the modern game.

You wouldn't eat a braaied boerwoers that was that underdone. The Australians will be skewering them this week to see if they're ready. The World Cup was South Africa's focus during February and March, and then followed the IPL, the Champions League Twenty20 and the limited-overs games against Australia, preventing their players from turning out for their first-class franchises.

In the same period, Australia won a three-Test series in Sri Lanka, before some players went home to play in the Sheffield Shield. The Australians also spent the past week in Potchefstroom, where they faced South Africa A in a challenging three-day encounter. On the other hand, South Africa's stars have had to settle for domestic one-day cricket in the lead-up to the Test, which begins in Cape Town on Wednesday.

It is far from ideal preparation, something Australia know all too well after they failed to ready themselves for the Ashes last summer and were thumped by a well-oiled England. Hussey was careful to avoid calling the South Africans underdone, but he said the solid base of first-class cricket Australia's player had enjoyed recently was an advantage.

"Definitely getting some first-class cricket is beneficial coming into a Test series, no question about that," Hussey said. "For me personally I would love to have some first-class games coming into a Test series, so we can definitely have that as an advantage. But they have been playing some provincial cricket, some of their guys have only been playing Twenty20 which makes it tougher.

"I look at it two ways, freshness is important as well, you can come in flying from the start, but the hard thing about Test cricket is maintaining that pressure and intensity the whole time. The more Test cricket you have as a base, you can maintain that pressure and intensity for longer periods. I'm not anticipating them being underdone, they will come out firing and they will be playing pretty hard cricket. Us having played quite a bit of cricket, hopefully we can maintain our intensity."

One of the key targets of Australia's intensity will be the South Africa vice-captain de Villiers, who broke his hand six weeks ago while training in the Champions League. de Villiers has been ruled fit for the first Test and was hoping for a solid hit-out in Sunday's one-day game for the Titans, only to be given out obstructing the field when the umpire adjudged he had got in the way of a run-out attempt.

He will need to do plenty of work in the nets over the next two days to ensure he is comfortable for a Test against the likes of Mitchell Johnson, who broke both Graeme Smith's hands in separate incidents nearly three years ago. Hussey said Australia's aggressive fast men would give de Villiers a searching test.

"I think we'll have very specific plans for all their batsmen but that's what Test cricket is all about - trying to put doubt in the opposition's minds," Hussey said. "We'll be trying to test all their batsmen and it's nice to have the personnel to be able to do it, they're all pretty aggressive bowlers, apart from Copes [Trent Copeland].

"It will be a tough challenge for [de Villiers] as well. Is the hand okay to start with, and he hasn't played a lot of cricket. It is very difficult to come back one from a break and two from injury and play well straight away. He is a class player though and I would expect him, if he plays, to get better and better as the series goes on the more cricket he gets under his belt. He is a very important player for their team.

Getting better and better as the series goes on isn't that easy in a two-Test series, adding to the questions over South Africa's preparation. If they fail to shed their rust in Cape Town, they have only one more opportunity. Hussey might not call them underdone, but the skewer will tell the story.