Who will be the World's No 1 Test Team?
by Asher Wilson

Scorecard:Australia v South Africa
Event:South Africa in Australia 2012/13

DateLine: 29th November 2012


Australia v South Africa
3rd Test 2012
Match Preview


The setting could not have been more appropriate in this marquee series. After fighting tooth and nail to be on even terms at Brisbane and Adelaide, the focus now shifts to the final Test at the WACA in Perth. On a ground where draws are as rare as grass in the Sahara desert, the fight for the No.1 position in Test cricket does not get better.


When it comes to the Australian batting, skipper Michael Clarke is the one-man demolition army. He has been in such sublime touch that one wonders what can his zenith be. His back to back double centuries in the series, most notably, his first day assault on South Africa in Adelaide, have made this series remarkable in more ways than one. His leadership from the front has masked the frailties of the middle order remarkably. For Ricky Ponting, who has announced his retirement, this Test provides him an opportunity to bow out on a high.


Ed Cowan and David Warner have chipped in when required. Warner's blitz at Adelaide stole the momentum from the South Africans and he will be dangerous again at Perth. He will be keen to repeat his heroics at this venue from earlier in the year against India when he blasted 180 to pull the rug out from under the Indian teams' feet. The addition of Shane Watson galvanizes the Australians totally. Watson has been in prime form with both bat and ball and he will be looked upon as the game-changer for the Aussies. With Michael Hussey in the hunt as well with two back to back centuries, it looks an impregnable batting line-up provided it all comes through for them.


Australia have rested Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus as the pace duo continue to recover after shouldering heavy workload in the last Test in Adelaide. The pacemen toiled in baking heat in nearly five sessions during South Africa's second innings at Adelaide Oval after James Pattinson broke down with a rib injury during the match. The addition of Mitchell Starc could be the ace in the pack for Clarke. Starc's ability to swing the ball at pace will be assisted by the Fremantle Doctor wind that blows across Perth and that will help the Australians tremendously. In the last couple of years, the left-arm pacers have enjoyed bowling on the Perth deck, none better than Mitchell Johnson who picked up 8/61 and 6/38 against South Africa and England in 2008 and 2010. With the wicket assisting the pacers, it could be an interesting toss-up between Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson. Johnson has a formidable record at Perth, having picked up 30 wickets in four matches at an average of 18.13. His prospects look good but it will be interesting to see the composition that Australia go into at the WACA.


The focus on South Africa has been more on their injuries rather than on the action. The injury to JP Duminy at Brisbane robbed them of a valuable batsman. In Adelaide, it was a double whammy with Kallis batting on one leg thanks to a hamstring problem. The back spasm injury to Vernon Philander made the South African bowling attack pedestrian to say the least in Adelaide. If the score-line reads 0-0, then the South Africans have to thank their batsmen for standing up and blunting the threat of the Australian quicks.


In Brisbane, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis stamped their class and put South Africa on top. In Adelaide, they were rescued by Faf du Plessis who had a remarkable debut. His unbeaten 110 in the second innings was a textbook study of endurance, stamina, concentration and patience. If one has to look at the parallels to the du Plessis knock, then the Jacques Rudolph century where he defied the Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne for the whole of the last day at Perth in 2005 comes close. Faf's innings has ensured that South Africa head into Perth as the No.1 team.


The WACA has been a happy hunting ground for the South Africans. Four years ago, South Africa achieved the second biggest run-chase in Test history when they chased down 414 and stole the advantage decisively from Australia. The big difference this time will be the potential unavailability of Jacques Kallis. His absence leaves a huge hole to fill for the Proteas. One might see Dean Elgar make his debut but South Africa also have a problem with the form of AB de Villiers. Since assuming the keeper's role, de Villiers has had some moderate returns and he will be looking to quickly change his fortunes.


The bowling is a bit more of a problem. Rory Kleinveldt has been all over the place in the first two Tests although he came back strongly in the second innings at Adelaide. Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn have bowled a lot of overs, with Steyn surprisingly proving to be less effective than what he usually is. The return of Philander strengthens the bowling and with the WACA wicket assisting the pacers more, one might see Imran Tahir miss out. Ryan McLaren makes an interesting case with regards to where he might slot in the team if he makes it for the third Test.


All said and done, this is the classic case of 'Do or Die' for both teams. A loss for South Africa would be crushing as they could relinquish the No.1 ranking, the spot which they fought so hard for. A win for Australia and Clarke would have fulfilled his mission of helping Australia go back to the top of the mountain after sinking into the abyss during the Ashes series loss in 2010-11.


Key Contest: Mitchell Johnson vs Graeme Smith
There has is a lot of rivalry in cricket but one is Mitchell Johnson and Graeme Smith who have been up against each other on numerous occasions in situations that could go either way. Johnson has been winning that battle so far, taking the captain’s wicket a number of times and breaking both his hands on separate occasions. Australia is one of three countries that Smith has not been able to do well against consistency, averaging 36.43. This isn't the case for Johnson who averages a shade over 30 with the ball and he will be menacing if he can land the ball well on this pacey wicket.


Overall, the conditions are looking good, and despite a few mini showers forecast for the first day, it should be clear for the best part of five days – with a couple of clouds around to assist the bowlers even more. The toss will be important, as it usually is, but it might very well be a good one to lose, considering the weather.


Australia (possible) 1 Ed Cowan, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Ricky Ponting, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Lyon, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Josh Hazlewood


South Africa (possible) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis / Dean Elgar, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Rory Kleinveldt, 11 Morne Morkel

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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