Sandpaper saga in the bin as Australia and South Africa focus on the present
Australia cricket team Sandpaper saga in the bin as Australia and South Africa focus on the present
One-day series could end up being more about bowling than batting, and Steynâs return will make it a pace duel to enjoy
Itâs inevitable that with South Africa visiting Australiaâs shores in November, there would be questions about the ball-tampering episode from Cape Town the previous March. But in the end, it would be hard to find anyone who cares less than the South Africans.
For one thing, theyâre here for limited-overs cricket. There are only five players in the squad who played in that previous Test series: the captain Faf du Plessis, wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, opening batsman Aiden Markram and fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.
For another, they never thought the ball-tampering thing was that big a deal in the first place. Some people have implied that du Plessis is a hypocrite, given heâs been charged with tampering twice himself. But he was the first to point that out in Cape Town, saying openly that his team was in no position to criticise. He also stated that he thought the whole issue had been overblown, and sent Steve Smith a personal message of support following his suspension.
If there were any residual ill-feelings from the likes of Rabada about the bad-tempered Test series, this is also a very different Australian line-up. The only players from the South Africa tour are the fast bowlers Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and Mitchell Starc, who werenât much involved in on-field disputes, and Shaun Marsh, whose verbal tendencies make the average monk look chatty. The feuds of the past donât need to be carried on by those in the present.
Instead, it will be a new series and a new challenge for an Australian team that has struggled to find any mojo in either of the white-ball formats. The 50-over side endured a 5-0 thrashing in England in June. The T20 side lost a triangular tournament to Pakistan in Zimbabwe in July, and has just lost 3-0 to the same team in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is a 50-over World Cup next year, and nothing is clicking for Australia.
Having the aforementioned bowling attack available on home pitches will certainly help, even if rotation policies mean they probably wonât all play togethe r. Nathan Coulter-Nile is the other quick, who was impressive with bat as well as ball in the UAE. Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa make up the spin component.
The big question is how the batting fits together. Glenn Maxwell, Chris Lynn and Travis Head are a dynamic trio, but there will presumably be room for only two of them. Aaron Finch and DâArcy Short are the only regular openers. Marshâs two centuries at first drop in England led coach Justin Langer to guarantee his spot. Marcus Stoinis has to be picked as the seam-bowling all-rounder at six. So that leaves two spots for the other three batsmen.
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Lynn and Short are the two that selectors are trying to nurture as 50-over players, having made recent teams mostly on their T20 exploits. Lynn has shown promise after top-scoring in the domestic 50-over competition in September, while Short is still working out how to change the pace of his game and what to do when heâs bogged down. If he struggles, Head could also return to opening the batting, which heâs done with some success before.
As for South Africa, the return of Dale Steyn to assist Ngidi and Rabada will make this series a pace duel to enjoy. Steyn is 35 years old now but has had plenty of time out with injury in the last couple of years, which may just have freshened him up for a new tilt. AB de Villiers decided not to push on until the World Cup, but Steyn is determined to do so.
The varied wrist spin of Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi will also be a challenge for Australian batting that has struggled against the middle overs of spin. But South Africaâs batting also looks a bit thin these days without the stalwarts like de Villiers and Hashim Amla in the order.
Du Plessis will lead Markram, de Kock, and the powerful David Miller, but otherwise will be relying on the inexperienced Reeza Hendricks and some bits-and-pieces players such as Chris Morris and Farhaan Behardien.
It should be a series about the bowling far more than the batting, but any batting performances of note might count for more because of that. With that World Cup looming, every game from here matters for the players hoping to make it. That will be the focus from both sides now, rather than any shared history about sandpaper.
- Australia cricket team
- South Africa cricket team
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