BRISBANE, Nov 8: Graeme Smith is fully conscious of the environment his No 1-ranked team will face on Friday in the series-opening match against Australia, even if South Africa have not played a Test at the Gabba since 1963.
With five of the world’s top nine pacemen in action and with the top Test ranking at stake, the three-match series is destined to be fast and furious.
Given it’s a year since Australia were bowled out for a humiliating 47 in an eight-wicket defeat in Cape Town, and given the green tinge to the Gabba pitch and the constant banter this week about short-pitch bowling, the indications are it’ll be difficult for the batsmen in Brisbane.
“When you’ve got fast bowlers on either side, when you come to places like ... the Gabba, it’s going to be a topic of discussion,” Smith said of the pre-match hype. “It’s nothing new for us. We’ve come through these things before.”
Smith has a pace battery containing Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander — the two top-ranked bowlers in Test cricket — and Morne Morkel, who’re supplemented by veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis and leg-spinner Imran Tahir in a well-balanced attack.
Observers this week have reported Steyn has been bowling quicker in the nets than usual.
“You can bowl the speed of light, but how effective can you be — that’s the key,” Smith said. “Dale has proven that he can be both [fast and effective] — hopefully he’ll show that in this Test.”
South Africa have not lost a series away from home since a 2-0 defeat at Sri Lanka in 2006 — including a 2-1 series win in Australia in 2008-09 — a point Smith was keen to underline as he shrugged off reports of an Australian dossier targeting flaws in each of his players that was leaked in the media on Thursday.
Australia do have some good intelligence on the opposition, particularly after appointing Mickey Arthur as coach.
The Australians have not lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988, but have an unsettled team. Opener Shane Watson was ruled out due to injury replaced by uncapped left-hander Rob Quiney, who will make his Test debut batting at age 30.
Ricky Ponting has been under a fitness cloud with a niggling hamstring problem and the bowling line-up will be missing Pat Cummins, who burst onto the international stage with a Man-of-the-Match performance when Australia rebounded to win at Johannesburg to level last year’s series 1-1.
Skipper Michael Clarke will delay finalising his starting XI until Friday, wanting a last-minute look at the pitch and the weather conditions which could be overcast and assist seam bowling. But he did confirm that Ponting was ‘fully fit’ and would play.
“At this stage we’re still deciding whether we play four fast bowlers or do we play three fast bowlers and [off-spinner] Nathan Lyon,” Clarke said. “It’s important to wait and see what conditions we have tomorrow morning and then we’ll work out what the best XI is.”
Clarke played down reports of the leaked dossier, saying all the information was common knowledge anyway.
“The most important thing for me is not what you say it’s about what you do,” Clarke said. “There’s been enough said in the media and the series has been built up beautifully, two very strong cricket teams, now it’s about what we do.”
Australia pacemen Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle are now sixth and seventh in the international bowling rankings and James Pattinson is expected to support them as they bid to challenge South Africa’s highly-regarded pace trio.
Australia can reclaimed the No 1 ranking with a comprehensive series win, but that’s unlikely against a South African team that has developed a reputation for being consistently at the top of the game.
AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Ed Cowan, Rob Quiney, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke (captain), Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon.
SOUTH AFRICA: Alviro Petersen, Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, A.B. de Villiers, Jacques Rudolph, J.P. Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.—AP