Oz tour: The meanie Proteas must slay

2017-12-19 12:52
Pat Cummins (AP)

Cape Town - The Pat Cummins factor.

It may well prove a critical reason for South Africa not wishing to engage too heavily in an outright “pace war” on discernible green-tops when Australia visit for a four-Test series later in the season.

Ahead of that already mouth-watering tussle with the Baggy Greens - confirmed on Monday as recapturers of the Ashes from England even with two Tests still to play - the Proteas must first subdue top-ranked India (and of course negotiate the once-off, historic four-dayer against paupers Zimbabwe).

The stakes are high for currently second-placed South Africa in both headline series: win both and they could find themselves back at No 1.

They may well feel a bit more inclined to “spice up” local tracks for the one against India, given the stronger likelihood that the visitors’ quickies - though hardly to be underestimated - will not have quite the levels of menace the Australian attack currently does.

There is also the opportunity, of course, to try to make the Indians jump around a little as revenge for the controversial dust bowls the Proteas so struggled to master on their own last tour of India in 2015/16, when they crashed 3-0 in a four-match series.

Virat Kohli and company will be no pushovers - they have won all of their last nine series, albeit overwhelmingly on the Subcontinent - and whatever happens in that series, South Africa should be suitably battle-hardened by the time the Aussies arrive fairly soon afterwards.

They will clearly need to be: there has been more than enough evidence of pronounced Australian renaissance in the ongoing Ashes conflict, where England have been both outplayed and outdone in the aggro stakes thus far in slipping to 3-0 down with Melbourne and Sydney yet to play.

Indeed, there is a strong likelihood now that the Baggy Greens will earn a 5-0 clean sweep, which is exactly the result they had achieved against England just before they embarked on their 2013/14 tour of these shores, and pipped SA 2-1.

A few minutes before the Aussies completed their latest rout of the old enemy and seizing of the urn at the WACA on Monday, charismatic Channel 9 commentator Kevin Pietersen, the SA-born former England strokeplayer, was already talking enthusiastically of the Aussie visit to South Africa.

He warned they would be “very competitive” on the tour - a point worth making, though probably already acknowledged by many Proteas supporters.

Remember that South Africa have present bilateral bragging rights, courtesy of their 2-1 away series triumph in 2016/17; the remarkable third time in a row that the Proteas have prevailed Down Under.

Curiously, it is a different ball game at home in the post-isolation period, with SA failing to win a series in seven attempts (five losses, two stalemate series) ... so that is a stat the Proteas will be desperate to amend.

Faf du Plessis and company will also probably acknowledge that the Baggy Greens are in better structural shape now than they were last season.

Much of that has to do with the confirmation that the extremely slippery, aggressive Cummins appears to have put behind him a catalogue of injury concerns at last.

The now 24-year-old from Sydney was entirely absent in the last Oz v SA series.

But suddenly the three-pronged Aussie pace attack has broad menace, penetration and balance, with Cummins, lanky left-armer Mitchell Starc and consistently accuracy-conscious Josh Hazlewood probably the form alliance on the Test planet as things stand.

Another television commentator on the Ashes series, leg-spin legend Shane Warne, correctly branded Cummins the “enforcer” of the Australian attack, pointing out that he was clearly mandated to bowl bouncers - often pretty vicious ones, too - with some frequency and especially to target tail-enders mercilessly in that fashion.

A sign that the Aussies were unsure of their third fast bowler in that 2016/17 series was the fact that the role was filled by three different customers over the course of the Perth, Hobart and Adelaide Tests against SA - respectively Peter Siddle, Joe Mennie and Jackson Bird.

Cummins brings a definite, sharper edge to the Aussie arsenal, and has already shown his mettle - albeit briefly - in South African conditions.

He made his Test debut as a mere 18-year-old in the decisive second and final Test of the 2011/12 mini-series at the Wanderers, his second-innings haul of 6/79 (earning him the player-of-the-match laurel) going a long way to ensuring that the tourists squared the series 1-1 with a tense, two-wicket victory.

Cummins was hostility personified, even making life extremely difficult at the Bullring for South Africa’s steeliest batsman of the time, Jacques Kallis.

With South Africa not exactly short of speed options of their own, either raw or more experienced, the scene is set for a particularly compelling exchange of gunfire in March and early April.

But on noticeably pace-helpful surfaces?

Hmm, not so sure ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  pat cummins  |  cricket

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