Cape Town – Graeme Smith studiously avoided dropping hints
about South Africa’s team composition for the Test series decider against
Australia at his captain’s press conference at Newlands here on Friday.
Getting the mix right could be crucial to the Proteas’
chances of becoming the first SA side since 1969/70 to win a home series
against these opponents.
Reading between the lines – though even that can be
hazardous at times – it would appear that the chances of specialist spinner
Robin Peterson being included have only receded, if anything, and that with
cooler and possibly slightly moist, overcast conditions tipped for the first
two days’ play, the hosts will stick to a four-seamer principle and put their
turning faith in part-timers JP Duminy and Dean Elgar.
The only anticipated alteration to the “seven batsmen”
formula will be the return of fit-again Alviro Petersen to the top of the
order, with rookie Quinton de Kock dropping out and Elgar returning, a little
unfortunately perhaps, to a middle order slot where he is less suited.
Perhaps the most tantalising remaining question, against
that backdrop, is which of Kyle Abbott, Rory Kleinveldt or Ryan McLaren will then
do the job of fitting in for luckless Newlands absentee Wayne Parnell.
Good knowledge of local conditions works in favour of Cape
Cobras stalwart Kleinveldt, but he has wrestled some minor fitness concerns of
his own of late and if there is the slightest doubt, he is simply not worth
fielding on this critical occasion where Smith rightly says the “eyes of the
world” will be focussed.
That would leave a shootout between McLaren, who played in
the heavy first-Test reverse at Centurion and was pole-axed by Mitchell Johnson
while batting on the borderline dangerous surface, and in-form Sunfoil Series
factor Abbott for the vacancy.
A personal view is that the Proteas should go for the
jugular and give the ambitious Abbott his keenly-awaited second cap at this
level, for unrelenting firepower from the pace division.
But McLaren, who would also be less pressured as a batsman
because he would only be required at No 8 rather than seven this time, remains
a decent option and possibly the likelier one given the conservative yet
simultaneously pretty clear-cut way the Proteas structure their pecking order
in Test terms.
If the ground is enveloped by fair amounts of cloud up front
in this Test match and the temperature stays as expected only in the low
twenties -- after earlier heat-wave conditions in this city – then seamers who
can bowl accurately on a fullish length could see some rewards and McLaren fits
that bill quite nicely.
The Proteas would also boast comforting general batting
depth against Johnson and company, with McLaren and Vernon Philander (or the
other way around) occupying the spots as low as eight and nine.
Smith said in his assessment of the pitch: “(Newlands) can
get a bit slow and flat towards the back end of Tests if it’s hot, but it has
changed a little bit of late; there’s maybe a little more in it than in the
past, to my memory.
“This one looks like a good Test wicket, good for the game
and offering a bit to both bat and ball.”
Would it have any hallmarks similar to the one that earned
some infamy for the Aussies’ 47 all out fate in the last Test at the ground
between the sides?
“I can see that the groundsman (Evan Flint) has spent an
extensive amount of time preparing this wicket. There’s obviously been some
really hot weather coming into the game.
“But it’s also a different time of year, you know; it was
November or so when we played that previous game and they’d also replaced a lot
of the bulli in the pitch just before that game. I think it has settled down a
lot since that time.”
Asked very directly for news on his XI, Smith replied:
“We’ve got an idea where we want to go; Russell (Domingo, the coach) is meeting
Andrew (Hudson, the selection chief) at 15:00 and it will be confirmed then.
“I am getting a little reluctant to announce our team the
day before games ... that 24 hours (to the actual start) does seem a bit
The skipper was jocularly referring to the upheaval the
Proteas had immediately before the start of the second Test in Port Elizabeth,
when it was suddenly learnt that Philander was potentially carrying a minor
“Everyone’s come through training really well this week and
there’s a very good vibe. Hopefully we wake up and everyone’s in the same place
as I left them overnight.”
When a team has won a Test match by 231 runs, it seems a
tried-and-trusted principle not to tamper too much with a winning side, and Sport24
put that very issue to Smith.
He said: “Yes, I don’t see us tampering too much. We’ve
obviously had a few injuries, guys back from illness that we need to consider,
and also think about the surface, and the balance of the team.
“Those are things that come into discussion for this game.”
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