SA v Oz: Who gets bloody nose?

2014-08-26 12:00
Quinton de Kock (AFP)

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 2015.

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 Zimbabwe.

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 line-up.

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 November 14.

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 childbirth reasons.

That could cool temperatures ... but only by a fraction, mind.

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):

Wednesday: Harare

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

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  quinton de kock  |  cricket

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