It’s something that I can sometimes forget about cricket. Watching the build up to England’s slightly silly series in India I nearly forgot that Australia are playing an all too brief series in South Africa. The first T20 starts in about an hour. These two countries have had some of the best contests in recent years as Australia started to slip and South Africa looked to take their crown. Now Australia have well and truly slipped, and are looking to regain ground in the test tables, whilst South Africa were leapfrogged to the top first by India and now by England.
South Africa will hope that they haven’t forgot how to play test cricket. They haven’t had a match since drawing with India at the beginning of the year. Australia have had just one series in that time though, a recently completed tour of Sri Lanka. (Which, as an England fan, amazes me. The fact that England have twice had four whole months between test matches this year is unusual, imagine nine!)
It’s hard to know exactly which XI South Africa will field in the tests, but I expect it will contain many of the now slightly ageing stars it has throughout most of this century. It will be interesting to see how well they continue to get on and how long it takes them to get back into the rhythm of test cricket. (They will hope it’s less than two matches.)
Australia’s side is not too different from the last one to tour South Africa, though Clarke will be leading them this time. Mitchell Johnson is back, and it will be very interesting to see if it’s the world beating Mitchell Johnson of the last tour of RSA or the ‘he bowls to the left, he bowls to the right…’ vintage of the last Ashes. Phil Hughes, if he plays, will be another returning to the scene of bygone glories. One of the big battles could involve Ryan Harris and Paul Harris and whether I can remember who plays for whom.
Australia will take some hope from the fact that South Africa’s home form has been poor recently. They have not won a series against one of the other ‘big four’ sides since beating India 2-1 in ’06/’07. They will probably have a slight advantage with the absurdly short series. Only two tests, proceeded by as many T20s and three ODIs. I expect it to be fairly close, though without the venom of two and a half years ago. More like the 2009 Ashes than 2005.