South Africa in Australia

The last time South Africa arrived on Australia’s shores for a three test series, it was an unofficial battle for the world championship, as the dominant team in world cricket came up against the nation that had beaten all other challengers. In reality, the two-leg series was something of an anti-climax, as South African spearhead Allan Donald failed to perform, and an aging South African batting lineup could not match the brilliance of the Australian attack. Over six tests and two series in two countries, Australia displayed their supremacy with a commanding 5-1 victory, and a whitewash in the Australian leg.

Four years later, and things have changed. Australia are still the best in the world, but a loss in the Ashes less than six months ago is still fresh on the mind of the team, while South Africa have gone into a steady decline. From the heights of being Australia’s only challengers in 2001/02, they have lost their dominant edge over other contenders, and lost a home series to England for the first time in decades, to slip away from the number 2 spot.

Not all is bleak for South Africa though. The return of injury-prone but talented seamer Andre Nel and the continuing emergence of Makhaya Ntini have boosted a struggling bowling attack that still retaines the services of Shaun Pollock. Furthermore, in Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and young talent AB De Villiers they have the basis of a strong batting lineup. Since the loss to England, some strong performances in both test and ODI cricket have boosted confidence and resulted in a settled and in-form team that will be hopeful of giving the best in the world a competitive series. Above all, a good result in this series would be a huge boost for South African cricket, and confirm that they are still one of the best teams in the world.

For Australia, the task is not one of re-emergence, but consolidation. Australia have comfortably defeated the World XI and the West Indies since the Ashes loss, but it will be South Africa that present the truest test. A comfortable Australian victory will go some distance towards confirming the Ashes loss as a mere aberration, while a tough series or a loss would send a message to the cricket world that Australia’s crown is for the taking. Beyond that, Australia will be looking to find a settled team after no less than five sackings since the Ashes. The likes of Nathan Bracken, Andrew Symonds, Brad Hodge and Michael Hussey have come into the team with mixed results, and it may be this series that shows the selectors what Australia’s strongest team really is.

The series begins on Friday with a test at the WACA, followed by the traditional battles on Boxing Day at the MCG, and the first test of the new year in Sydney.

Australia Squad: Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting*, Brad Hodge, Michael Hussey, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Nathan Bracken, Glenn McGrath.

South Africa Squad: Graeme Smith*, AB De Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, Jacques Rudolph, Justin Kemp, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock, Nicky Boje, Makhaya Ntini, Andre Nel, Charl Langeveldt, Garnett Kruger.

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