Proteas

Weight of Proteas’ Oz task confirmed

2018-01-08 12:43
Dale Steyn (Gallo)

Cape Town – Even while in the midst of currently see-sawing combat against top-ranked India, the magnitude of South Africa’s quest to earn a maiden post-isolation home Test series triumph over Australia is suddenly in even sharper focus.

The Baggy Greens have just completed a widely-lauded, unexpectedly one-sided 4-0 Ashes series victory over battered tourists England – with just one whitewash-skirting draw at Melbourne – and have no further obligations in the format until they arrive here in late February for four mouth-watering clashes.

Some of their players will tackle the English in the one-day international series that follows, although they are likely to be cautiously “rotated” with the SA safari strongly in mind.

Right now, they look unrecognisable from the team which crashed (2-1) to a third successive home series reverse specifically at the hands of the Proteas last summer.

It is true that the Aussies’ away record remains suspect – last two series prior to the Ashes involved a 2-1 defeat in India and iffy 1-1 outcome in Bangladesh – but they traditionally far prefer South African pitches, remember, to those of the Subcontinent.

The Proteas have not yet won a home, post-isolation series against Australia and their task of correcting that quite shortly looks no less daunting than ever.

Steve Smith, the Baggy Greens’ captain, is the man of the moment in world cricket, not just for the way he steered the ship against England but through the glorious weight of his own performance with the bat.

The 28-year-old right-hander amassed a positively gluttonous 687 Ashes series runs at 137.40 over the course of seven innings, including three centuries and two fifties.

Of all serious, well-established batsmen in the Test arena, he boasts the second best – and growing -- overall average (63.75) to the incomparable Don Bradman.

Smith has already shown a suitable appetite for South African Test conditions, too, considering that in his first experience of them in the last series here, in 2013/14, he compiled 269 runs at an average of 67.25 – well above that stellar career one at present!

His own mastery against England was such that several compatriots’ commendable own efforts almost, and unjustifiably, flew beneath the radar.

Combative opener David Warner got 441 runs at 63.00, Shaun Marsh 445 at 74.16 to re-announce his credentials for a regular spot, and Usman Khawaja blossomed in the previously problematic, important No 3 spot.

The left-hander bagged 333 runs at almost 48, including a career second-best 171 in the just-completed Sydney win – that will be a major tonic for his aspirations in South Africa.

Even the wicketkeeper, Tim Paine, averaging 48 meant that as many as six Aussie batsmen proved superior in that respect than England’s best: captain Joe Root with 47.25.

There was also a blissful synergy to the Australian bowling performance: their well-rooted four premier bowlers (pacemen Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, plus off-spinner Nathan Lyon) all finished the Ashes within a very tight range of each other stats-wise.

The slippery Cummins landed 23 wickets at 24.65, Starc 22 at 23.54, Hazlewood 21 at 25.90 and Lyon 21 at 29.23.

For perspective, England’s standout individual was veteran James Anderson with 17 wickets at 27.82 – he sent down a brutal 222.3 overs in the series.

Test purists planet-wide cannot wait for the showdown between the Aussie pace trio and South Africa’s possibly still four-pronged speed assault – especially assuming that Dale Steyn recovers from his latest heel-injury setback to join the onslaught in time, which he apparently should …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  dale steyn  |  cricket
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