Cricket World Cup 2015

Now Oz target SA Test crown

2015-03-30 13:00
Mitchell Starc (AFP)

Cape Town – A fifth World Cup in the bag, albeit their first in eight years, Australia will doubtless now go in determined pursuit of adding broader cricket mastery to their dominance of the one-day international scene.

Or you may be more inclined to read: relentlessly hunt down South Africa’s continued status at the helm of the Test pile.

CWC 2015 ended with the Aussies, near-crushing conquerors of New Zealand in Sunday’s final, also firmly atop the latest ODI rankings, on 122 rating points – six clear of India on 116 and 10 ahead of third-placed South Africa (112).

The Black Caps, following such a spirited tournament as co-hosts – at least ahead of the one-sided Melbourne showpiece game -- look a little hard done by in fourth on paper, but bear in mind that the rankings rightly make allowance for performance over longer periods than one event.

It was as recently as earlier this summer, for instance, that they were beaten 2-0 in a bilateral series at home to the Proteas.

Purists will like the fact that, once the Indian Premier League has had its boisterous place in the sun shortly, the Test format returns to centre stage for much of the year or so ahead.

That also sparks the big question: are the Aussie ready to extend their indisputable bossing of the latest World Cup by grabbing five-day bragging rights as well?

The one certainty is that they will give it a brazen go – the feel-good factor generated by their CWC 2015 success is bound to spill over into other areas.

A shudder may have gone down a few South African spines, for instance, when player-of-the-tournament Mitchell Starc, the swift and skilful left-arm bowler, confirmed his relish for transferring his rampant World Cup form with the white ball to Tests, where he has been a bit of a stop-start presence in recent years for the Baggy Greens.

He is part of an ominously swelling pool of Aussie fast bowlers available for the Test cause, which also includes the likes of veterans Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson – though at 35 and 33 respectively their days must be pretty numbered – and younger tearaways like Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins.

It is pacemen like these who should ensure Australia more often than not do the 20-wickets job required to win Tests, even if the country is still struggling to find a spinner capable of stepping even partly into the massive shadow of Shane Warne ... and that will hamper their plans on the Subcontinent, at the very least.

The Aussies lie second to the Proteas on the Test rankings, with 118 rating points which leaves them six shy of South Africa (124).

England are a distant third on 104, and play both Australia (five-Test Ashes, at home in mid-year) and South Africa (four Tests for Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, away from December) within the next year.

The Proteas, headed by such enduring stalwarts as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, arguably still sport a more settled, proven and consistent batting line-up in the Test environment, and are starting to show signs of solving their own long-time spin woes as youngsters Dane Piedt and Simon Harmer compete healthily for the main tweaking slot.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that the much-trumpeted Steyn-Morkel-Philander trio face a mushrooming threat from Down Under to their perceived mantle as world’s best Test pace combo.

For their own depth purposes, South Africa will hope that the likes of 19-year-old Kagiso Rabada (39 wickets at 21.12 in the Lions’ just-completed Sunfoil Series success) and the genuinely quick but less subtle Marchant de Lange stay on upward curves going forward.

Australia will also have been heartened by pipping the Proteas 2-1 in South Africa last summer, where the host nation did themselves no favours by largely failing to offer tracks that best suited their seaming strengths, although the side now led by Amla do hold bragging rights from both of their last two away series against these foes.

The Aussies have also proved much more vulnerable to defeat on the Subcontinent in Test series than the Proteas have in recent times – they have been comprehensively beaten in both of their last series away to India and Pakistan, whereas South Africa can claim fighting stalemates against those foes, plus triumph in Sri Lanka last year.

It will be some time yet before these traditional southern-hemisphere powerhouses lock horns at Test level again, with the next series only scheduled for quite early in the 2016/17 season in Australia.

Before that, they will play Twenty20 contests in South Africa towards the end of 2015/16 – useful scene-setters for the next ICC World Twenty20 in India – and then some ODIs, also on our soil, in October next year.

Here are the scheduled Test series, in order, for each country from this June until the end of the 2015/16 summer, with the Aussies getting conspicuously more activity in the period if the Future Tours Programme is to be adhered to:

South Africa: Bangladesh (away, 2), India (away, 4), England (home, 4)

Australia: West Indies (away, 2), England (away, 5), Bangladesh (away, 2), New Zealand (home, 3), West Indies (home, 3), New Zealand (away, 3)

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    australia  |  cwc 2015  |  mitchell starc  |  cricket

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