Australia in SA

Proteas XI: McLaren v Abbott?

2014-02-28 12:38
Ryan McLaren (Gallo)

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 interesting!”

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 niggle.

“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.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ozinsa  |  graeme smith

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