<
>

South African spies keep eye on Siddle

South Africa have enlisted the help of spies in Melbourne to compile a file on Australia's rookie fast bowler Peter Siddle, who has been rushed into the side for the first Test to replace the injured Stuart Clark. Siddle made his Test debut in Mohali in October but he is still a fresh face at first-class level and has played only 14 games.

"We've got a pretty good dossier on him actually, from a couple of people we know in and around the Melbourne area," South Africa's coach Mickey Arthur said in the lead-up to Wednesday's Perth Test. "The only footage we did have was from the Indian Test match and obviously conditions are going to be slightly different.

"He looks quite skiddy, he looks quite quick, I think he hits the bat quite hard. We've got to give him the respect he deserves. It'll be interesting to see how he comes through."

The WACA Test is shaping as a battle of the fast men with the pitch expected to be livelier than in the corresponding match last season, when India beat an Australia side that featured four fast bowlers. There has been significant hype around the South African attack, which boasts the young and quick Dale Steyn and the tall Morne Morkel, who extracts impressive bounce, but Arthur said the veteran Makhaya Ntini remained the heart of the bowling group.

"Makhaya is the leader," Arthur said. "I think Makhaya is a better thinking bowler than he was a couple of years back. I've been very impressed with his net practicing and the Tests that we played against Bangladesh, where I thought that he's got a little bit of that zip back, which is great."

Ntini's Test record against Australia was modest until he boosted it last time the teams met, in Johannesburg in 2005-06, when he picked up ten wickets for the game. Another old head whose performances against Australia have been below par is Jacques Kallis, who has a Test average of 55.06 but a mark of 38.32 against Australia.

Kallis is especially keen to lift after two disappointing series this year. His poor run began in England and he continued to struggle at home against Bangladesh, and in the six Tests in those two series he averaged 16. However, Arthur said in the four years he had been involved with the South Africa squad, this was the first lean spell Kallis had endured and he was confident it would not last.

"He's still the rock around which we build our batting," Arthur said. "I've never seen Jacques so focused and so hungry to come here and perform. I'm pretty sure he's going to have a good series. I've been watching him prepare and he really is focused at the moment. If you want Makhaya to be the leader of our bowlers, Jacques certainly leads our batting."

Arthur has been keen to concentrate on his own men in the lead-up to the first Test and the pre-series chat has notably come largely from his Australian counterpart Tim Nielsen. It has been a far cry from the build-up to the 2005-06 tour, when South Africa's captain Graeme Smith came out swinging in his media appearances but his side failed to back up his words on the field.

South Africa are a more mature side now and they have not lost a Test series since visiting Sri Lanka in 2006. Although he is clearly quietly confident in his squad, Arthur has been careful to give due regard to an Australian side that remains No. 1 in the Test rankings.

"We've got a huge amount of respect for Australia, they're still the best team in the world," he said. "They've got a lot of unbelievable cricketers. They haven't been beaten in Australia for 17 years and we really respect that. But by the same token we're a confident team at the moment, which is very nice.

"We're not letting any outside distractions get to us. We're pretty calm, we're pretty relaxed. This is the most focused and relaxed I've seen this team, which is fantastic. Over the last two years I think the guys are in an unbelievable place. We're only worrying about our game."