Tourists Looking to Wrap up Series in Hobart
South Africa head to Hobart for the Second Test with a chance to win the series after a domain 177 run victory in the opening Test match in Perth. Despite being comprehensively outplayed on Day 1, the tourists were quite magnificent from Day 2 onwards and sealed the win shortly before tea on Day 5. Even more encouragingly for South Africa was that it was some of their younger brigade, rather than the established stars, who flourished in Perth. With the bat, Quinton De Kock made a pair of very classy half centuries and middle order partner Temba Bavuma constructed a fighting half century. Debutant Keshav Maharaja bowled with probing accuracy to take 4 wickets on a surface not suiting the spinners. However, the match winner proved tearaway young fast bowler Kasigo Rabada who bowled with hostility and accuracy in taking 7 wickets for the match, including a 5-wicket haul in the 4th innings, and pulling off an outstanding run out. South Africa are undefeated in Australia since 2005/06 and will be gunning for a 3rd straight series win on these shores.
Whilst the tourists completed a hat trick of victories in Perth, this is their first ever Test match at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. This will remarkably be the first time the tourists will be without both Dale Steyn and AB De Viliiers in a Test match since 2004. The lynchpin pair debuted together at Port Elizabeth against England in 2004 and, whilst De Villiers remains hopeful of making it back for Adelaide, Steyn is out for a prolonged period. With rain predicted for at least the first two days of the Test Match, South Africa have opted to bring in Kyle Abbott for the injured Steyn.
Australia Under Pressure
Australia are in a whole different head space coming into Hobart after four successive demoralising Test defeats. After a chastising tour of Sri Lanka, Australia were expected to bounce back hard in familiar conditions back home. However, having gone 18 previous Tests unbeaten at home, the hosts frailties were exposed leaving a number of players under pressure heading to Hobart. Australia lost the game on the morning of Day 2 when they inexplicably lost 10/86 to turn a dominant position into just a 2-run lead as the tourists seized the momentum and never let it go from there. With the bat, David Warner looked in majestic form, however left runs out in the middle after being dismissed for 97 and run out for 35 in the 2nd innings. Usman Khawaja responded to his dumping by compiling a neat 97, whilst gloveman Peter Neville found some much needed form with an unbeaten half century in the 2nd innings.
Whilst both Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood bowled well in the first innings, they looked a little flat as the match went on. Nathan Lyon will want a better performance here in Hobart as he had one of the poorer matches of his career in Perth, claiming career worst figures of 0/146 in the 2nd innings. Australia's middle oder continues to be the subject of much scrutiny with Adam Voges form starting to tail off.
Australia Selection Policy All Over The Shop
I am sure the Australian selectors had the best of intentions when they announced they would pick and stick with the same 12 players for the opening two Test matches regardless of results. I understand sometimes you need to show some love and some faith in players and that they don't want them to feel like they are playing for their place in every Test match. However, searing heat and a bouncy track in Perth is the polar opposite to rainy days In Hobart on a wicket likely to be a little soft and nibble around plenty.
Already that move to announce the 12 players for both Tests backfired immediately the Perth Test finished, with Shaun Marsh succumbing to a broken finger and Peter Siddle out with a back injury. With Adam Voges struggling with a hamstring complaint, Australia have been forced to call in Joe Burns, Callum Ferguson and Jackson Bird to the mix.
The selectors have been forced to back down from their original stance when they opted to play 6 specialist batsman and just 4 bowlers given the rain that is likely to be around. With the wicket likely to seam around, and an Australian side searching for runs, Callum Ferguson makes a belated debut at Number 6. Ferguson has been the forgotten man for Australia over the past 5 years, last playing an ODI back in 2011, due to some serious knee injuries. Having finally started to find more consistency in the 4-day game over the past few years, Ferguson gets a chance at Test level just short of his 32nd birthday. For Mitchell Marsh it is a time for introspection and to go back to State level and work on his batting. Whilst he remains a precocious talent, I thought he was placed in an unfair position at Test level and would be far better served coming into the Test team with some genuine and prolonged all-round Shield form.
The selectors did stick to their guns on the other hand opting for Joe Mennie ahead of Hobart specialist Jackson Bird. Mennie, at 27 years of age, is a great story, having been well down the pecking order in Sydney as he plugged away for Western Suburbs five years ago. His move to Adelaide ignited his career and his 161 First Class wickets at 26 put him in the frame to pounce when injuries occurred, as they have here. However, there must have been a temptation to play Jackson Bird given he has dominated for Tasmania down there for a number of years.
Captain Cool Faf a Keeper
Australia have often seen Faf Du Plessis as an easy target, however he is proving an excellent captain for his country. So much so, I would be telling AB De Villiers to concentrate on his batting when he returns to the side for the 3rd Test in Adelaide. Du Plessis led his side magnificently to a 177 run victory at the WACA in the 1st Test in Perth last week. After Australia dominated Day 1, and Dale Steyn limped out early on Day 2, the tourists would have been forgiven for falling into a hole. However, Du Plessis rallied his troops and rotated his bowling magnificently throughout the game. Whilst the Channel 9 commentators were relentless in their criticism of Du Plessis batting on and on and securing a 537 run 4th innings lead, I thought he got his declaration spot on. Down their strike bowler and on a wicket that had flattened out, South Africa took the chance to grind Australia totally out of the game and keep them out in the heat for a couple more hours. He would have known in the back of his mind Australia are not capable of a stone wall type approach and would continue to take risks batting.
Du Plessis took the bold step, after leading South Africa to a 5-0 series clean sweep in the recent ODI series against Australia, to say some Australian players might carry "mental scars" into the Test series. Du Plessis would have known these comments would grant him some extra attention, however, it shows someone who is not going to back down from the Australians. So far, Du Plessis has proved a popular, cool and calm leader who has led his side to a Test Series victory over New Zealand and now an opening Test win in Perth.
Khawaja A Mentally Tough Batsman
Usman Khawaja recently described Australian selectors as "fickle" and that he was made a "scapegoat" for Australia's recent tour of Sri Lanka. They were strong words, perhaps words that he might regret, however it shows a man comfortable in his own skin and supremely confident in his own ability. Khawaja backed up his words with actions this week. Those comments poured pressure on Khawaja, however there is no doubt he has the inner belief that he belongs at this level. Which is probably why he felt comfortable in saying such words, as he knew he had the ability and the mental temperament to back them up. Khawaja was unlucky to be dissmissed for a 2nd innings 97 on a marginal LBW decision just when he looked to be on his way to perhaps a career defining century.
I often feel Khawaja has been misunderstood by many in the general public and sometimes by a few within the Australia setup itself. His cool cat demeanour defies a guys who is a fiercely determined batsman that loves batting long periods. Whilst Khawaja might joke around and appear laconic, he is a mentally tough cricketer. Often cricketers that are more intense, puff their chest out are often the most brittle inside, Khawaja is the opposite. Khawaja knows his game and knows his personality. He knows what to do and he will stick true to himself. As a 17-year old, he batted for 5 hours in a bitter First Grade Final between Randwick-Petersham and Easts, when Brad Haddin never gave him a moment's peace. He loves batting and Australia need proper batsman right now.