Australia in SA

Now Oz face Newlands ghost

2014-02-24 07:11
AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Graeme Smith has presided over many great Proteas Test triumphs, including some very shortly after adversity for his side ... but has he ever managed a “swing” of as large as 512 runs between successive contests?

SA v Australia - Day 4 as it happened

That is a question for elated South African enthusiasts to contemplate after his fired-up charges pulled off a 231-run, levelling triumph against Australia at St George’s Park on Sunday - completely turning around the defeat by 281 runs in the first encounter at Centurion.

The Proteas showed off their top-ranked qualities in a major way, greedily seizing nine Aussie wickets in a dramatic final session of day four to seal a thoroughly deserved and epic victory, with Dale Steyn back in full cry in a vintage display of reverse swing bowling.

They delightedly took out of the equation the threat of bad weather predicted for Monday, and instead can already set their sights on becoming the first-isolation SA side to win a home series against these illustrious foes.

“Fortress Newlands”, with its likely, welcome big crowds lies in wait for the decider from Saturday.

Smith’s side would wish for no other venue to attempt the series kill: they have won all of their last four Tests at the picturesque ground, and not lost one in any of the last 11.

The last reverse came by seven wickets to the very Baggy Greens in March 2006, towards the end of a great era by the Australians in which they all too often had South Africa’s number.

But both of the last two Newlands Tests between these sides (2008/09 and 2011/12) have been claimed by the hosts, and it is the more recent of those which must provide the Aussies with a few nervous twitches.

That game will forever be remembered for the visitors’ extraordinary capitulation to 21 for nine and finally 47 all out in their 18-over second innings, when debutant and home-town favourite Vernon Philander bagged five for 15.

It must be quite a haunting memory to have if you are Australian, and as many as eight of the likely visiting side to play in the third Test in a few days’ time - if you include the likelihood that supposedly fit-again all-rounder Shane Watson will earn a recall - were members of that shell-shocked XI.

There were a couple of taunting “47 all out” posters on view from the stands at St George’s Park; expect a few more when the teams lock horns at the exact venue where the carnage occurred.

That is not to say that Michael Clarke’s side, laden with admirable characters - Chris Rogers was one to come to the fore with a defiant century in the losing cause on Sunday - will be easy-beats at Newlands: typical of the Aussie way, they will believe they have as much chance of grabbing the series.

There is also the strong possibility that someone like Mitchell Johnson, their trump-card fast bowler, will come much more into his own again with better assistance from the Capetonian track.

But Newlands is also a place historically much to the liking of the collective Proteas seam attack, and the team’s brains trust should waste little time in ensuring that the team from the tremendous PE triumph is barely altered.

One enforced change is likely: there must be only an outside chance that Wayne Parnell will recover in time from his groin strain to crack the nod after bowling only 8.3 overs in the latest clash (the handicap of his absence in the final-innings bowling push in PE was just another reason to laud the quality of the SA win).

The logical move, you would think, is to install in his place the Dolphins’ in-form Kyle Abbott, fresh off a match haul of 12/125 in the Sunfoil Series match against the Cobras just up the road from Newlands, as it were, in Paarl.

The 26-year-old leads the wickets column in the domestic four-day competition (alongside the Warriors’ Simon Harmer, who has played one extra match) with 22 at 13.09 and, in his lone Test appearance thus far, sports figures of 9/68 against Pakistan last season.

A four-pronged pace onslaught of Steyn, Philander, Morné Morkel and Abbott - with support from the capable part-time spinners JP Duminy and Dean Elgar - is an appetising prospect as the Proteas attempt to land the killer punch.

If another left-arm quickie is sought for the useful extra variety that provides, then young Beuran Hendricks can be considered too, although he missed the latest round of Sunfoil Series games through injury and his state of readiness for next weekend was unclear at the time of writing.

Structurally, South Africa just looked so much better balanced at St George’s Park with the return to a seven-batsmen formula and then four specialist fast bowlers.

If they could get away notably successfully without a spinning “specialist” in PE, they can certainly do so once more at Newlands ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ozinsa  |  cricket
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