Cape Town – Astute team selections and correct judgement of
fitness and stamina issues on both sides could play an important role in
determining which way the decisive last Test between Australia and South Africa
at the WACA from Friday goes.
The enthralling series remains delicately poised at 0-0,
with the Aussies under greater pressure to ensure that they field a side
capable of finally doing the “20 wickets job” on the Proteas and winning -- only
that result will see them knock the tourists off their No 1 spot in the ICC
South Africa could possibly afford to be a bit more
batting-conscious in the choice of their XI, bearing in mind that another draw
is enough to leave their status undisturbed for the time being.
Australia v South Africa 2nd Test Day 5 Highlights
Then again, that can be a fatal mindset: a stronger personal
hunch is that the South Africans will be keen to show their truest colours,
after being second best to varying degrees in the first two Tests, and strike
out for a 1-0 victory to leave no doubt about their pedigree.
This being effectively the second of back-to-back
encounters, with all the physical and emotional draining that accompanies entry
into the last of them, how the respective brains trusts decide their
combinations could be pivotal.
The Aussies, no doubt miffed and the more footsore side
after their failed quest to knock over the Proteas in the 148-over fourth
innings of the Adelaide Test in unrelentingly warm or hot conditions, are
reportedly even contemplating a whole new front-line attack.
That is because the workload of Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus
and even off-spinner Nathan Lyon was immense at Adelaide, and the three-day
turnaround to Perth could have lingering repercussions from a fatigue point of
Smart money, I believe, suggests that at least two of those
three will still play at the WACA, depending on the respective degrees to which
the trio have bounced back physically by Friday.
Australia will also restore Shane Watson to a top-order
position, giving their batting order a generally steelier look, although
whether the eternally injury-prone all-rounder is able to make a bowling
contribution remains to be seen.
But what will the Proteas do? There are heaps of
permutations open to them, a situation complicated in no small measure by the
readiness or otherwise of blue-chip player Jacques Kallis to assume his place.
Clearly they will do everything they can in frantic,
physiotherapy terms to get him suitably ready to bat in Perth – he has had a
sparkling tour thus far and sports an average of 75.
His impressive resistance in both innings at Adelaide
suggests that he would probably be capable of doing so again at the WACA –
Kallis appears to have an admirable pain threshold – but there is also the
fielding matter to chew on: just how mobile can he be for the demands of
diving, for instance, at slip?
Nicks tend to occur fairly frequently, and the ball also
travels fast, in Perth, so you cannot really afford to carry a notably limping
soldier (however brilliant his capabilities at full fitness) in the cordon.
I would suggest that the reprieve beneficiary, if Kallis is
ruled out, will be the labouring Jacques Rudolph, dismissed four times in four
knocks now by Lyon, but perhaps less likely to be troubled by him at the WACA,
assuming the Australian “offie” even plays.
The Proteas arguably still need to do everything they can to
field a spinner, for the key sake of variety and perhaps also containment ...
and that man needs to be Robin Peterson rather than the shell-shocked,
supposedly “attacking” leggie Imran Tahir.
They may opt for only four bowlers, and if all-seam is the
call, Peterson might well miss out, which could prove an unfortunate decision.
My recommendation would be to play him anyway, even if it
means that he has to bat a notch too high, perhaps, at No 7 in a line-up reassuringly
still featuring Kallis among the established core of Proteas front-line
But if Kallis is absent, and the out-of-touch Rudolph thus
stays, the specialist batting department will contain some measure of
vulnerability – enough to suggest that late tour call-up Ryan McLaren offers quite
attractive shore-up possibilities in the lower middle-order.
In a Kallis-less
side,I would then be mightily tempted to employ this all-rounder (first-class
batting average 30.57, highest score 140) at the expense of slightly unlucky
Rory Kleinveldt, a solid “improver” in Adelaide although his bowling average in
the series does remain an inflated 60.75.
McLaren would bat at seven, with Peterson then under a
little less pressure at No 8, and also serve as seriously handy fourth seamer.
The 29-year-old McLaren has been in pretty decent form with
both ball and bat as captain of the Knights in the domestic Momentum One-Day
Cup, and performed more than respectably in his lone Test against England at
the Wanderers in 2009/10, when the Proteas produced a muscular effort to win by
an innings and salvage a 1-1 outcome from the four-match series.
These are the Proteas XIs I would recommend, depending on
the great Kallis quandary; I believe they would offer enough depth and
competence in both the batting and bowling departments:
Rob Houwing’s team if
Jacques Kallis can play as batsman: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim
Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wkt), Faf du Plessis, Robin Peterson,
Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel.
Rob Houwing’s team if
Kallis cannot play: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla,
Jacques Rudolph, AB de Villiers (wkt), Faf du Plessis, Ryan McLaren, Robin
Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.
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