Biff back for Proteas

2009-04-02 00:00

The South African one-day international outfit is hardly short of confidence after their successful summer, but they will receive a mighty boost when their leader returns for today’s first ODI against Australia at a packed Kingsmead.

Graeme Smith, fingers and elbow back to normal, will lead out the Proteas for the first time in a one-day since the long-forgotten series against Bangladesh.

“For a little period, I have been out of the game, but I have felt in control of my game for some time now,” commented the Proteas’ captain.

“Every chance you get to represent your country is a special one, so it is nice to be back playing for South Africa. It is something I am looking forward to and hopefully we can put in a special performance and in the rest of the games. The guys are well prepared and excited.”

The “guys” have been in sublime form in Smith’s absence, and have been superbly marshalled by the increasingly impressive Johan Botha.

Indeed, the metronomical off-spinner has probably become the most important bowler in the side, and though his captain’s stint is over, he will still be expected to lead from the front.

South Africa, who won the preceding Pro20 series in some style, will still be without the services of veteran Jacques Kallis, although he is expected to return for the second match in Pretoria.

“He is coming through nicely. He is bowling in the nets and he has had a good batting session as well. From what I understand from the physio, he is progressing very nicely and SuperSport Park (on Sunday) is a very definite option,” Smith said of the all-rounder.

Kallis aside, South Africa still have a wealth of experience in today’s line-up, with Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn back to spearhead the bowling.

Morne Morkel will join brother Albie in the side, after the Titans beanpole went back to his franchise and did exactly what the selectors told him to. He has found some rhythm and has taken wickets aplenty to earn a recall to the starting line-up.

Another Titans product, Roelof van der Merwe, has just missed out on a place for tonight, but there is every chance that he may make his ODI bow at his home ground on Sunday, especially as that will be a day game and allow spinners to have a role in the game.

The Durban crowd will thus miss out on their chance to see van der Merwe’s unique collection of scoring shots, which left Aussie bowlers and cameramen scratching their heads in disbelief in the Pro20 last week.

For the Australians, the series gives them an opportunity to avenge the 4-1 drubbing they received at home two months ago.

Their squad is hardly short of quality, with the miserly Nathan Bracken back in to thwart the threat of Herschelle Gibbs and company at the top of the South African innings. The visitors will also be looking to the likes of Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey to contribute with the bat.

The Proteas, in form, at home and buoyed by Smith’s return, should win. But form usually means very little when these two giants collide, and the capacity crowd could be in for another humdinger.

Squads:

Graeme Smith (capt), Johan Botha (vice-capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini. 12th man: Roelof van der Merwe.

Australia: Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Callum Ferguson, Marcus North, James Hopes, Cameron White, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Brett Geeves, Nathan Bracken, Ben Laughlin.

TV Times: Supersport 2 and SABC 3 from 2pm.

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