Aussie bowling loses aura
It is often advisable not to resort to “now or never” sort of terminology. They are strong words.
“Never”? Are you trying to tell me, with assuredness and science, that in the next 100 or 200 years South Africa will still not have managed a Test series conquest Down Under?
Even if Graeme Smith’s class of 2008/09 have failed?
There is no way of knowing, after all, whether or not the Proteas will one day – why, maybe even within the next decade -- field a team simultaneously featuring their own Bradmanesque batting equivalent and Warney-clone champion spinner.
At the same time, though, those who strongly sense “opportunity like seldom before” to break an eight-series Aussie-soil duck, stretching back to 1910/11, cannot be faulted for their belief.
I will focus exclusively on the Australian bowling attack for best fuel for that theory: it will, you see, be the least experienced, and pertinently least aura-laden, in many a year to hurl leather at their fierce southern hemisphere rivals.
A fascinating, educative set of statistics came to light when I trawled the Sydney Morning Herald website this week.
The respected organ ran a panel comparing the likely Australian quartet of front-line bowlers for the first Test at the WACA with the four who did duty in the first Test at precisely the same venue in 2005/06.
Then, the home attack was made up of Glenn McGrath (116 Tests to that point and 534 wickets), Brett Lee (46 and 179), Nathan Bracken (4 and 10) and Shane Warne (132 and 645). It amounted to a combined tally of 298 Test caps, and a lofty 1368 wickets.
Compare that to the favoured attack (though it is possible off-spinner Jason Krejza will be omitted for Shane Watson) for the Test starting on Wednesday: Lee (now 74 Tests and 309 wickets), Mitchell Johnson (15 and 61), Peter Siddle (1 and 4) and Krejza (1 and 12).
That amounts to 91 Tests and 386 wickets – a massive come-down on both “numbers” fronts from just three years previously.
The situation is made all the more acute by the belated Perth pull-out through injury of Stuart Clark – probably for the series.
Here is a street-smart seamer, after all, who directly replaced McGrath when the veteran spearhead opted out of the tour of South Africa in 2005/06 because of his wife’s illness, and promptly was player-of-the-series on Aussie debut with 20 wickets at 15.75!
So the Australians are now deprived of yet another bowler who could at least claim some meaningful degree of mental stranglehold over the Proteas.
It goes without saying, of course, that McGrath and especially the indefatigable Warne have consistently provided torment and heartbreak for South Africa in the post-isolation era.
This is the first time neither nemesis will on the proverbial paddock.
Not very far behind
Warne has played every one of 24 Tests against South Africa since the end of apartheid, claiming 130 gleeful scalps at an average of just under 25. (In Australia itself, over 12 Tests, he has taken 69 wickets against the “Saffers” at 24.04.)
McGrath is not very far behind, boasting 57 wickets at 27.33 against South Africa, and his mere, snarling “presence” often having a rabbit-in-the-headlights effect on the meeker-willed of Proteas batsmen.
At the pace-friendly WACA this week, though, Smith’s troops will face up to just one survivor of the old guard in Lee, now 32 and quite possibly receding from his most ferocious heyday.
Lee has bowled some limb-pounding spells against South Africa, but has also been less of a wicket-taking factor against them than either Warne or McGrath – his 22 poles have come at 33.40, which is worse than his overall Test bowling average of 30.11 at present.
Johnson, Siddle and Krejza? Their Test experience against the Proteas amounts to a collective, fat zero. So as much as they will be intriguing “unknowns”, they will also sport no history of psychological advantage whatsoever.
When all is said and done, my gut feeling is still to marginally fancy Australia to nick the series on home soil.
But that is not to say the Proteas don’t have one helluva shot at finally capsizing the ever-so-slightly listing juggernaut in its own waters.
No Aussie attack is ever likely to bowl marshmallows all day at South Africa. But the days of Warne and McGrath fizz-bomb carnage are gone, too, and it is a perfect time to attempt to cash in …
Rob is Sport24's chief writer.
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