Cape Town – Seven confirmed clashes, though much more likely
eight ... that’s how many times traditional superpowers South Africa and
Australia will usefully lock horns in one-day internationals ahead of World Cup
Bilateral build-up hostilities to the headline global
tournament kick in on Wednesday (09:30 SA time) with their first of two
pre-final encounters in the Harare-staged triangular also featuring host nation
Considering that this is really a peculiar race between a
Ferrari, a Maserati and a Toyota Tazz – no prizes for guessing which nation,
with respect, could be said to occupy the popular little suburban run-around –
you have to suspect very strongly that the Proteas and Aussies will meet for a
third time in the September 6 showpiece.
The minnows already have their backs firmly to the wall
after a 198-run crushing from a ruthless Aussie outfit on Monday, a result that
quickly down-played any suggestions that the men from Down Under would be
coated in rust after a reasonably protracted off-season.
Almost all of their top five batsmen on Monday got decent and
surprisingly fluent time at the crease, whilst Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell
Starc oozed a combination of aggression and mostly tight discipline as they
quickly stamped their authority up front on the outclassed Zimbabwean batting
It is then only two and a bit months later that the southern
hemisphere “big two” run into each other again -- this time minus a third
element -- on Australian soil for a five-match series, starting in Perth on
While those will be the more educative encounters, given the
fact that the February-March World Cup is to be played on Australian and New
Zealand soil, there is going to be some obvious psychological value afterwards to
one or the other every time they play over the next few months.
Not unusually, there is a very good chance at this stage
that the currently No 1-ranked Aussies and third-placed Proteas will be among
the hottest favourites for the CWC laurels, even given South Africa’s notorious
capacity for serious implosion at an advanced stage.
The largely benign, sun-warmed surfaces of Harare Sports
Club will be less of a yardstick to which of the pair is in best shape for the
World Cup, but that won’t dim the intensity between the fierce foes even if the
controversial big-hitting “barking dog” of the Aussie Test-series triumph in
South Africa last summer, David Warner, is an absentee from this event for
That could cool temperatures ... but only by a fraction,
Before the Aussies arrived in Zimbabwe, it would have been
tempting to suggest AB de Villiers’s side boasted a tidy edge simply because
their winter has been so much busier and includes a highly praiseworthy 2-1 win
in Sri Lanka.
But the way the Australians disposed of Zimbabwe first-up –
arguably more ruthlessly than any of the Proteas’ wins in the three-game
bilateral series they clean swept immediately preceding this event – perhaps
puts a lid on that theory.
As much as anything, else, it didn’t appear as though Aussie
conditioning has taken a noticeable tumble during the few months off
international duty for their personnel.
These teams last met at ODI level in a three-game series in
South Africa in 2011/12, when the visitors edged it 2-1.
At the time, the Proteas team still had a slightly
long-in-the-tooth look to it, given that the likes of Graeme Smith, Jacques
Kallis and Mark Boucher were still in the mix, and the same applied to
off-spinner Johan Botha who is now Australian-based.
The current South African 50-overs side does look more
youthful and arguably more dynamic, plus the 21-year-old baby-faced phenomenon
Quinton de Kock (average a touch under 50 after 22 ODIs) goes into battle with
left-arm thunderbolt Johnson and company for the first time.
Seatbelts fastened, the real deal is upon us ...
*All ODIs between
South Africa and Australia ahead of World Cup 2015 (when they are in opposite
pools but could well meet further down the road):
Next Tuesday: Harare
Saturday, September 6: Harare (possible final clash)
November 14: Perth
November 16: Perth
November 19: Canberra
November 21: Melbourne
November 23: Sydney
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing