Australia v South Africa First Test
Thursday November 3, 1.30pm AEDT
The international summer of cricket begins in earnest on Thursday when Australia take on South Africa in the first of a three test series, beginning in Perth.
Back in familiar climbs the Australians will be hoping to put their horrific whitewash series defeat away to Sri Lanka behind them and reassert their dominance on home soil. Despite being outgunned in the sub-continent the composition of their side remains much the same with Usman Khawaja recalled in place of all-rounder Moises Henriques, while a fit-again Peter Siddle will battle with bolter Joe Mennie for the last spot in the bowling attack alongside Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon. The talented but polarizing Shaun Marsh has held off a challenge from Joe Burns to preserve his spot alongside David Warner at the top of the order and Marsh’s brother Mitchell has also been retained despite some question marks around his output, particularly with the bat.
Since taking over from Brad Haddin, wicket-keeper Peter Nevill has been tidy behind the stumps but will be looking to contribute more with the bat, having scored just two fifties in 19 test innings’ and only reaching 25 once in his last ten ventures to the crease. The Aussies have been near impenetrable at home, winning their last five test series’ down under, however they have been on the wrong end of the last two visits from South Africa.
The Proteas have slipped down to number five on the ICC test rankings as they have grappled to come to terms with the retirements of prolific duo Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. They were dealt a further blow with the absence of regular captain AB de Villiers who was unable to overcome an elbow injury in time for this tour with fellow middle-order batsman Faf du Plessis taking the leadership reigns. Nonetheless South Africa should prove stiff opposition for the Australians with plenty of quality and depth in their pace attack via the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel. Morkel seems most likely to miss out if the visitors choose to go with one of their spinners in Perth with Tabraiz Shamsi and Kashav Maharaj both pushing for a test debut.
At the top of the order Stephen Cook should resume his place alongside Dean Elgar which would push exciting keeper-batsman Quinton de Kock back down to number seven, while Temba Bavuma is expected to hold off a challenge from Rilee Rossouw for the number six spot. Most recently the Proteas overcame New Zealand at home in August, while on this tour they have endured mixed results in consecutive two-day matches against a Cricket Australia XI and South Australian XI.
The famed WACA Ground seems to have lost its reputation as a fast-bowler’s paradise in recent times with plenty of high scores as evidenced by last season’s test match with New Zealand where both sides comfortably passed 550. Australia are yet to beat South Africa at the WACA from three attempts, however it’s worth noting that David Warner’s last four test innings’ here have produced scores of 24, 253, 112 and 60.
- Australia are undefeated in their last 18 tests at home, although the last team to beat them was South Africa in Perth.
- Australia have drawn four of their past eight tests at home.
- South Africa have won only two of their past 12 tests.
- South Africa have won two and drawn one of their three tests against Australia in Perth
- South Africa have drawn six of their last 14 tests
Back in familiar territory Australia have been installed as favourites ahead of the travelling Proteas, with the draw considered the least likely outcome.
The Aussies’ record at home is hard to overlook despite coming into the series off the back of a crushing defeat away to Sri Lanka and equally damaging 5-0 loss in the ODI format against Thursday’s opposition, albeit without their first-choice bowling attack. With Starc, Hazlewood and co. returning and their batsmen not needing to worry about dry, turning pitches, their favouritism is deserved, however their price is not sufficiently attractive to warrant any attention.
As far as South Africa is concerned you can be sure that the conditions will not cause them any apprehension either, however their recent record in this format is not compelling. With no de Villiers the batting looks overly reliant on stand-in captain du Plessis and his classy counterpart Hashim Amla, while their stable of fast bowlers may struggle to extract the sort of penetration they might expect from this WACA pitch so I also have no interest in backing the visitors either.
That leaves the draw which shapes as an appealing proposition given that half of Australia’s last eight tests on home soil and half of South Africa’s last eight away from home have finished in a stalemate. In fact the Proteas have been struggling to produce a result in all conditions, with six of their past 14 tests overall finishing in a draw. Furthermore the WACA pitch has definitely favoured the batsmen of late with monstrous scores in last year’s test match backed up in first-class cricket with the batting side being bowled out in only six of the past 15 innings’ in the Sheffield Shield so I definitely want to have the draw onside.
I will, however look to close my position on the draw given that the relative strengths of each side lie with their bowling, rather than their batting, and despite all the runs that have flowed in Perth, there has still been five results in the last six Sheffield Shield matches at the WACA plus eight results in the past nine test matches here.
But I remain confident that the draw will trade significantly lower than starting price which is why I’m advocating a back-to-lay of the draw.