Australia v Proteas: the tale of the tape

Date: November 3, 2012 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Next Friday the eagerly awaited Australia-South Africa Test series gets underway in Brisbane.

Should Australia be victorious over the three Test series it will replace the Proteas as world number one.

Strangely, the two teams are playing simply for a sponsor named trophy as no official trophy has ever been struck for series between two of the games oldest rivals.

Graeme Smith’s men will start as a warm favourite to win the series but the Gabba – the venue for the opening encounter – has been a fortress for Australia over the past three decades.

Australia’s last loss in Brisbane was 27 years ago with the ensuing period producing 17 victories and ten draws.

South Africa however, will take plenty of belief into the series opener as it has been six years since it has lost an away series.

South Africa played the same eleven throughout its three Test series against England in August, winning it 2-nil.

Presuming they take the same team into the opening Test and surmising Australia plays Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc misses out, here’s my head-to-head across the teams.

Graeme Smith v David Warner

Smith is still in his prime at 31yo and notched up his 100th Test during the series against England. He boasts a career average of 50 and has scored 25 centuries. He has the capacity to post big scores, having compiled four double centuries. His dominance has waned however, in recent years. Warner is still learning the craft. Remarkably, nine of his 20 first-class matches have been in the Test arena after he carried the tag of a limited-overs specialist for many years. He has the ability to set up a match off his own bat as his blazing 180 against India at the WACA last season showed. Advantage South Africa

Alviro Petersen v Ed Cowan

This pair is fairly inexperienced at Test level. Petersen is somewhat of a journeyman. He’ll turn 32 during the series but has played just 16 Tests. He has elevated his career average to 42 on the back of a productive series against England where he posted a Test-best 182. Cowan averages just 30 from his seven Tests with three half-centuries. He needs a solid start to the series with Phillip Hughes’ recent form putting him under pressure. His four Shield knocks this season have produced just 83 runs. Advantage South Africa

Hashim Amla v Ricky Ponting

Amla is a class act. He has become the centrepiece of the Proteas’ batting as Kallis heads further into the twilight of his career. Amla’s concentration levels are phenomenal. His technique is extremely solid – 16 centuries from 62 Tests is testament to that, as is his 311no against England, the only Test triple century by a South African. His legside play is a strength. Ponting had a golden summer last year with a century in Sydney and a double hundred in Adelaide. Given his age and the fact he is no longer skipper he will be under constant watch. His first-class form for Tasmania this season has been exemplary with 350 runs at 175. It is hard to go against the games’ second most prolific player but given Amla’s incredible consistency, I give him the nod – just. Advantage South Africa

Jacques Kallis v Shane Watson

Whilst Watson will bat at three and not directly offset Kallis the fact that they are both genuine all-rounders makes the comparison more beneficial. Kallis is a phenomenon. It seems he gets better as he gets older. Second only to Tendulkar for Test centuries – he has 42 – he has averaged 72 over the past three years during which time he has peeled off 11 centuries including his only two double tons. He has a largely impregnable technique and should he and Amla both throw out the anchor together Australia will face some pain. Watson has talked a lot pre-series about converting his 50s into 100s. He needs too. In the pivotal number three role he has to exert his authority. His bowling has improved markedly in recent times and he is likely to prove more productive with the ball than Kallis. But on balance, you just cannot go past Kallis in this duel. Advantage South Africa

J P Duminy v Michael Clarke

This is a no-brainer for Australia. The Aussie skipper batted like a true leader last summer with a career-best 329no in Sydney and 210 in Adelaide for a season’s aggregate of 648 runs at 93. He is totally comfortable in his own skin at present and he appears to have the total support of his charges. His left-arm finger spin could prove vital in Brisbane if he goes with four pace bowlers. Duminy had a terrific maiden tour of Australia four years ago, averaging 62 and scoring a match-winning 166 in Melbourne. It came as a surprise to see him omitted shortly afterwards. He has played 16 Tests to date and at 28 and with an average of 38, the coming series looms as a crucial one for him. Advantage Australia

Jacques Rudolph v Michael Hussey

In 14 Tests against South Africa, Hussey has passed 100 just once and averages a mere 34. They are figures he will be very keen to change as he faces the Proteas for the last time. Due to Champions League commitments he is yet to complete a first-class match this summer, hardly ideal preparation ahead of facing the best attack in the world. Having said that, Hussey has always shown a way to produce his best. Rudolph has been around for a long time but not always in Proteas colours. After playing 35 Tests up until he entered a near five-year international hiatus. Recalled after several seasons of plundering English county attacks he opened with Smith with moderate success before slipping down the order for his past seven Tests. At 31 and with a career average of 36, this series will determine his Test future. Advantage Australia

A B de Villiers v Matthew Wade

A case of master and apprentice. Whilst de Villiers has not kept too often in his 77 Tests he has filled the role considerably in the limited overs arena. His batting continues to improve and at 28, his best years may well be ahead of him. His presence behind the stumps effectively allows the Proteas to play seven specialist batsmen. An aggressive wielder of the willow, he may free up even more now that he has an all-round role. Australia will be hoping the gloss is taken off his batting by keeping him in the field for long periods. Wade will be making his Test debut. He is certainly competent with the bat, but his class pales in comparison to de Villiers. Advantage South Africa

Dale Steyn v Peter Siddle

Steyn is an out and out champion of the game and is rightly ranked as the world’s number one bowler. He is one of the few genuine fast bowlers who can bowl controlled outswing in nearly any conditions. He boasts 287 wickets at 23 from his 57 appearances. But his most compelling statistic is his strike rate – a wicket every 41.5 balls. Siddle is a whole-hearted performer who will return to the scene of his Test hat-trick in the opening encounter. He has slimmed down and admits he is in peak condition but head-to-head against Steyn it is a no contest. Advantage South Africa

Vernon Philander v James Pattinson

It takes a lot to out bowl Steyn but in his brief 10-Test career Philander has done just that. After being branded as having behavioural issues, he did not debut until the age of 26. In his first Test, in Cape Town in November last year, he captured 5/15 and helped dismiss Australia for just 47. Since then he has continued to impress. In his 10 Tests to date he has captured 63 wickets at 16 with seven five-wicket hauls, at the phenomenal strike rate of 33.  He will find the Gabba a tailor made venue for his swing and bounce. Pattinson is another who burst onto the Test scene. He debuted last summer and captured 26 wickets at 19 in five Tests. His dream start included man-of-the-match awards in his first two Tests. Injury cut him down after that but he is now fit and raring to go. If he can control his swing and hit the length he did last summer he will be a major handful, but at this stage, Philander has the edge. Advantage South Africa

Morne Morkel v Ben Hilfenhaus

Hilfenhaus enters this summer coming off his most productive period in Test ranks. His last seven Tests have produced 37 wickets at 18. When on song and in control of his outswinger he can at times be unplayable. But, should he lose the swing, he can look quite pedestrian. He is another who will relish the Brisbane conditions, avenue where he picked up a man-of-the-match award against West Indies in 2009. Morkel has also been a more consistent performer of late. The tall and gangly 28-year-old will relish the bounce on Australian pitches. He captured his 150th Test wicket during the recent series against England. In a line ball decision, I lean ever so slightly towards Pattinson. Advantage Australia

Imran Tahir v Nathan Lyon

A former Pakistan ‘A’ representative, the 33-year-old, Lahore-born Tahir is an attacking leg-spinner who likes to give the ball a genuine rip. He is not afraid to toss the ball up and as such, at times can be expensive. But he also has the ability to claim a brace of wickets. His wrong’un may deceive the Australian tail. He has captured 26 wickets in his ten Tests at 40. Lyon is Australia’s number one spinner and by some considerable distance. After a meteoric rise to Test level he has settled well. He has captured 42 wickets in 13 Tests at 28, a very respectable average for an Australian finger-spinner. I give him a slight edge. Advantage Australia

So there you have it – for what it’s worth!

On my assessment, that gives a combined pre-series eleven of seven South Africans and four Australians.

The combined line-up looks like this: Smith, Petersen, Amla, Kallis, Clarke, Hussey, de Villiers, Philander, Steyn, Hilfenhaus, and Lyon.

Make of it what you will.

First published on The Roar – – on 2 November 2012

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