SA in Australia

SA awaits Aussie novices

2009-02-05 12:03
Captaining a youthful squad (Gallo Images)
Comment: Rob Houwing

Cape Town – The kids are in town - or at least soon will be.

The 14-strong Australian Test squad for their South African tour, revealed on Thursday, is the surest signal yet that the Baggy Greens’ selectors feel a need for a meaningful rebuild, however painful it may be in the short to medium term.

It is not quite a universal approach, because 36-year-old leg-spinner Bryce McGain is fancied to play the first Test at the Wanderers from February 26 – he will be the oldest debutant for Australia since Bob Holland back in 1984.

But generally the wise men have heeded widespread advice Down Under to grit their teeth and bravely invest in the future, however daunting their attempt to gain revenge on the confident Proteas in their own backyard will be.

Of course the cause was not helped by injuries to players like Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Shane Watson and the decision to keep combative Andrew Symonds at home because it is felt he needs further counselling and rehabilitation over personal issues.

But the panel have placed heavy confidence in a few greenhorns, most notably the 20-year-old New South Wales opening batsman Phillip Hughes, son of a banana farmer.

It seems pretty clear that he will be given a three-Test assurance: you are free to find your feet at this level regardless of what happens to you first-up in the Bullring or even in the next encounter at Kingsmead.

That much can be deduced from the fact that the more experienced and fairly proven specialist opener Phil Jaques could not find a place at all, surprisingly, in the party.

Instead the “spare” batsman on tour will be Western Australian middle-order left-hander Marcus North, who has amassed nearly 8 800 first-class runs for his state side and had some success against South Africa when they played warm-up matches in Perth as far back as the 2005/06 tour.

Still, Hughes has been the talk of the Sheffield Shield season, having clobbered 891 runs at 74.25 for NSW - even if Dale Steyn and company may be interested, at the very least, in his apparently fairly unorthodox technique.

The Proteas are unlikely to be massively over-awed by the composition of the Aussie pace quartet of Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus; they had the proverbial “good look” at the last-named player in the recent ODI series.

It appears as if the Aussies will pin their faith, for the first Test, as closely as possibly in the XI who secured a dead-rubber triumph by 103 runs at the SCG over the New Year.

The Wanderers line-up is likely to show just two changes, with Hughes coming in for the retired Matthew Hayden and McGain possibly eclipsing Nathan Hauritz for the spinner’s place, although the latter tours anyway.

It is a sobering thought that, if Cricinfo is to be believed, the anticipated team for the Bullring will feature a combined 277 Test caps. Of those, 128 belong to captain Ricky Ponting alone!

When last Australia played South Africa in a Test in Johannesburg, they won by two wickets to secure a 3-0 series sweep in April 2006, and the XI sported an altogether richer combined tally, by Sport24’s calculation, of 671 caps.

This, for the record, was the Aussie team in batting order then, with caps up to that contest listed: Justin Langer (99), Hayden (81), Ponting (102), Damien Martyn (63), Mike Hussey (8), Symonds (9), Adam Gilchrist (82), Shane Warne (137), Lee (51), Mike Kasprowicz (37), Clark (2).

Australian tour squad (first 11 players mentioned provisionally tipped to start first Test): Ricky Ponting (captain), Simon Katich, Phillip Hughes, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew McDonald, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Bryce McGain, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Marcus North.


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