New Year’s Tests

Like on Boxing Day there are two Tests back to back this week; stumps in Sydney lead neatly into the start of play at Cape Town. Unlike on Boxing Day I’m not going to all but ignore South Africa, but the Australian match is on at a more reasonable time (for me) so I’ll still focus on them.

Australia still have a lot of questions to answer, despite their emphatic victory at the MCG. Their batsmen collapsed to 27-4 whilst trying to build a lead despite mediocre bowling and being under no pressure to score quickly. Their shot selection was poor, and not for the first time this year. Warner is a good young player, but he still has work to do on curbing his aggression. Cowan left a ball a bit too close, but he still looks like the most reliable member of the top order. Leaving balls is not something his compatriots have done nearly enough. On the bowling side, Harris is back in the squad, but not expected to play. After their strong performance at Melbourne that isn’t surprising, no bowler gave a performance that would be worthy of being dropped.

India are in a clearly worse state than Australia. Their batsmen still seem incapable of dealing with the slightest movement and worse did not even seem to realise that they could not play the same shots that they would on the subcontinent. There does not appear to be a lot they could change with regard to selection, after the performance in England there does not seem to be any point to playing Raina in place of Kohli. Their bowlers are not the problem, but they do not have the strength in depth to exploit the pace of the pitches as Australia have done. They must find a way to make their batsmen play sensibly, especially Sehwag at the top of the order. The age of the batmen make this look unlikely, however, they are fairly well established in their styles.

The pitch is expected to help the quicks as it has the previous two years. This will help Australia, and they should try to ensure that the pitches in the remaining two Tests do the same. I expect it will be another low scoring game then, and it will probably be decided by who does the best job of knuckling down. Australia will be happy with that; Dravid is the only batmsan who appears to be able to knuckle down and having been bowled twice off legal deliveries and once off a no-ball he might have a weakness that Australia can exploit. If he does fall cheaply Australia will be strong favourites, as India do not look like having anyone else who can build an innings. I’m predicting an Australian win by 50 runs.

I mostly ignored the Boxing Day Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka. The first match went the way I had predicted and the series did not look like it was going to be as close or as interesting as the one in Oz. Of course, then, it turned into a reasonably close and quite surprising match. I had underestimated South Africa’s ability to choke, especially on Boxing Day. They collapsed, again, and lost, again. It’s great news for the neutral like myself, as the series is now 1-1 going into Cape Town. South Africa still ought to win, but they never ought to have lost the previous match and I’m not sure they’ll be able to force a victory.

Prince has been dropped and Alviro Petersen will play in his stead. Petersen is an opener by trade and Prince batted at number six, so it’s not clear where he will bat at Cape Town. With Rudolph struggling a bit at the top I would expect Petersen to open and Rudolph to move down the order. Philander is also back fit, which leaves a slight conundrum for the selectors. Marchant de Lange was Philander’s replacement at Kingsmead and took seven wickets in the first innings. Morne Morkel performed better in the second innings though, and may yet keep his place. I would be tempted to give de Lange another Test in which to try to push for an extended run.

Sri Lanka shouldn’t feel like they need to do too much differently. A draw will be a good result in the series for them, and the pressure will be firmly on South Africa to win the match. Given their history when the pressure has been on Sri Lanka will feel like they have a good chance to at least draw and maybe even win the match. Their only injury concern (or at least only new injury concern) is that of Dinesh Chandimal, and he is expected to be fit to play. I’m predicting a draw, with South Africa on top but not doing enough to actually win.

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