The time for talking is over. We’ve gone over the context and the controversies and now we can get to the cricket. Come Saturday at 10.20am in Queensland, all eyes will be on bat versus ball, or if we’re being honest, maybe just the ball.
In stark contrast to all the Bazballing our test cricket-loving eyes have been subjected to, the tone for this series is expected to be set by the fast bowlers. There are 12 in total in both squads with a joint skill set that includes speed, swing, slower ball variations and the ability to choke scoring with strangling lines and lengths. Pound for pound, the Australian and South African bouts are evenly matched, which only means that the most likely place for the series to win or lose is in the performance of the batsmen.
If they are correct, which are the only reasons for averages hovering below 40, Australia could be the place to prove it. The bounce will be true and there won’t be much lateral movement to deal with, which South Africa struggled with in England. While the home attack will be just as, if not harder, harder than the bowlers they’ve already faced, they are on par with South Africa’s home platoon in pace and threat. If some of the top six don’t get good grades in this series, places must be in jeopardy and a shift in personnel could be imminent. Likewise, the series is important for South Africa’s team management as Malibongwe Maketa, currently appointed as interim head coach, is interested in the permanent role.
AustraliaWWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LLWWW
In the spotlight
No matter how you pronounce his name, Marnus Labuschagne becomes the talk of the series and not just because he is playing against his native country in Tests for the first time. Labuschagne is in a purple spot most players can only dream of, with three hundred from his last four Test innings, including a double hundred. He is the fourth top scorer in Tests this year, just 171 runs clear of the leader, Joe Root, and with four Test innings to play before 2022 is over, he could well top the list. He credits his obsession with becoming a better hitter as the key to success and there’s no better country to show off than the one he used to call home.
Australian captain Pat Cummins has recovered from the quadriceps injury that kept him out of the second Test against the West Indies and will take over the captain’s armband from Steven Smith while Michael Neser sits out. Scott Boland reserves his spot for the injured Josh Hazlewood.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Scott Boland
Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma rejoin the batting line-up after missing the final Test and the entire England tour respectively. Their experience comes in handy as Keegan Petersen is out of the tour with a torn hamstring. That leaves a gap at number 5, which will likely be filled by either Khaya Zondo or Theunis de Bruyn, with Heinrich Klaasen in reserve. South Africa are considering seven specialist hitters, but with bowling all-rounder Marco Jansen at number 7, they can afford to field four other bowlers: three frontline quicks and Keshav Maharaj as the lone spinner.
South Africa (possibly) 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Sarel Erwee, 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Khaya Zondo/Theunis de Bruyn, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada , 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Location and conditions
Known as one of the fastest surfaces in Test cricket, the Gabba should have enough bite for the fast bowlers and is not afraid to show its true colours. It was still very green 24 hours after the litter, although there was still a chance that a little shearing could be done. “The green color doesn’t scare us,” Elgar said. However, it can also be deceptive. The last time South Africa played at this venue, they got sucked into the mythology and went into a frenzy only to discover the pitch was so calm that even Hashim Amla got a few overs. That was ten years ago and the second day was lost to rain. You don’t expect that this time with sunny weather during the entire test.
Statistics and tidbits
- South Africa won their last three series in Australia in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
- Together, South Africa’s side has 1675 first-class caps, more than Australia’s 1533. However, South Africa has only 329 test caps compared to Australia’s 577.
- Mitchell Starc needs four wickets for 300 in Tests; Usman Khawaja needs 47 runs for 4000
- Australia has four batters – Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head and Usman Khawaja – and two bowlers – Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc – in the top ten of the ICC’s Test rankings. South Africa has no batters and only one bowler: Kagiso Rabada. Their highest-ranked hitter is Dean Elgar, at number 16.
“It looks like they have a pretty well-rounded attack. Whether they’re playing four out of five bowlers, they’ve got a good spinner and a left arm. They’re going to be a challenge.”
Pat Cummins on South Africa’s bowling strength
“We’ve always fought fire with fire. It doesn’t take much for our guys to step up when they need to. We can’t control what Australia does. The only thing we can control is how we conduct our business. ”
South Africa will not shy away from a verbal battle if the series goes in that direction, their interim coach said Malibongwe Maketa
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent