Focused. Relaxed. Calm. Three words you do not expect to hear from the dressing room when there are two fiery battles on the cricket field. Indians have already shown their firepower once. Now South Africa want to trade places.
The colossal victory for India pushed the nation once again to put pressure on South Africa to establish their supremacy over the world champions in order to not only retain the number two spot in the ICC world rankings but also, to claim their rightful passage to the very top.
Best team to beat history
But this time South Africa seem less hindered for the contest though traditionally since 1910 South Africa have failed to get past Australia on Australian soil. Many teams in the past, even since readmission into international cricket, have held their own for the world to see only to lose their nerve against their age old nemesis. It may have had to do with Shane Warne picking up 130 wickets at a measly average of 24 against South Africa.
With the retirements of Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist, Australia have lost some of their wing power even as other teams continue to grow in strength. While South Africa have the ability to make one eat their own words after a contest against Australia, the current South African team is perhaps the best yet to be touring South Africa.
The top five batsmen, excluding Jacques Kallis who is suffering from wretched form, are all in line for the most runs in a calendar year. That of course is now being held by Virender Sehwag after his whirlwind match winning knock of eighty-three. Sehwag leads the pack with 1445 runs ahead of South African skipper Graeme Smith with 1363 runs. While Smith has played fewer innings (21 to 25), they have both featured in thirteen matches each with Smith also leading the century column with five against his name while Sehwag has three, including the triple century against South Africa in Chennai earlier in the year.
With Hashim Amla, Neil McKenzie, Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers, South Africa are seeing their top batsmen in good form and it only bodes well as Smith seeks to make amends for his previous debacles.
They will look to capitalize on the fact that Matthew Hayden himself is nowhere near his reputation and apart from Australian skipper Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, Australia will look to the likes of Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds to really get it going for them after the damage of the Border Gavaskar Trophy against India.
Former fast bowler Dennis Lillee and former captain Kim Hughes have backed Dale Steyn to do well against Australia. The prospect of the first Test being staged at the WACA makes for an intriguing contest between bat and ball as the pitch is expected to considerably assist the pacers.
In that South Africa’s Steyn and Morne Morkel have overcome their niggles (hamstring and ankle respectively). But Australia have suffered a blow as Stuart Clark as been ruled out with a painful elbow that could well put him out of the series itself. That is a blow because Clark has been one of the chief destructors in 2006 taking twenty wickets against South Africa and the visitors will certainly not be unhappy to see the back of him.
The only thing keeps the cricket lovers guessing is whether both teams will employ a spinner. Ponting has already shown that he lacks belief in his spinners, even in a country like India. So, if Jason Krezja is once again kept out, and someone like Peter Siddle put it, it will come as no surprise.
The South African thought plan is quite different. While it would be tempting to play left arm bowler Lonwabe Tsotsobe on the WACA pitch, Mickey Arthur and Smith have expressed their reluctance to upset the balance of the side that comprised the lone spinner, Paul Harris. Harris himself is coming back from a broken thumb and Smith appears fit after his elbow problems.
Tim Nielsen thinks their sixteen year unbeaten record at home will keep Australia safe against South Africa. However, not many are sure about as even the likes of Lillee and Hughes remain non committal.
South Africa are not taking any chances. They have come here before only to be doused. They respect Australia but as Smith put it, he now leads a team, especially a bowling attack, that has not been exposed to losing to Australia too much in the past and his team has a no fear approach which puts them in a calm but not complacent frame of mind.
A team on the wane, beaten by tactics more than personnel in India, Australia have their work cut out. Perhaps they will have a better work out against South Africa. Whether South Africa can actually push past and not falter after getting into a strong position like England will determine who will be reckoned champion material in 2009.