Cricket smorgasbord: SA vs India and a do-or-die Ashes Test Down Under

2010-12-15 00:00

THE scene is set for an enthralling weekend of cricket on both sides of the Indian ocean. Though geographically the Test matches are far-flung, there are common threads weaving through both contests, which promise to make them even more intriguing.

At the Waca in Perth, England have won just one of their 11 Test matches played at the ground, while at Centurion, India will be determined to erase their poor record of a single win in 11 Test matches in South Africa.

India’s captain has downplayed his team’s poor performance in South Africa, saying: “It is not always about history, it is more important to focus on conditions.”

Focusing is certainly one aspect but adapting will be the real test in my opinion. South Africa’s coach, Corrie van Zyl, confirms how challenging this will be for India by saying: “It is not easy to get used to South African conditions if you haven’t been playing in them for a while.”

This despite India’s number one test ranking, Gary Kirsten’s 3 000-ball approach, and the time India have spent acclimatising in Cape Town leading up to the first Test match, which starts at Centurion tomorrow.

Australia have it all to do in Perth and will be desperate to keep England’s record there down to a single victory. It is do or die for Ponting and his team who will have to win two of the remaining three Test matches if they’re to have any hope in retaining the Ashes.

It’s likely that the pitch preparation for both Tests will be fairly similar. The Waca wicket has been known for it’s fierce pace and bounce, a reputation it has not lived up to in the past few years, though.

With Australia completely on the back foot it won’t be surprising to see a lively Waca wicket with a healthy covering of grass.

England’s coach, Andy Flower, speaking with the confidence that comes from being 1-0 up in the series, says that this type of wicket will make for exciting cricket.

In Pretoria a harder Centurion pitch with more pace and bounce will definitely be preferred by South Africa as they seek to draw first blood in the series.

The level of tension is going to be high in both encounters. A loss for Australia in Perth will have England retaining the Ashes and Australia in tatters, an outcome not seen since the “dark days” of Australian cricket in the 1980s.

At Centurion the pendulum of pressure will swing India’s way as South Africa set out to expose them and make the most of their homeground advantage.

A bouncy hard pitch at Centurion will create intensity and bit of spice to kick-start the series. The same applies at the Waca where Australia’s mettle will be tested as never before as they battle to protect their pride.

With competitive characters aplenty in both Test matches we’re bound to see some heated exchanges, frayed tempers and plenty of aggression. It’s going to be compelling viewing and a good excuse to overindulge in some serious cricket-watching from the early hours down under to stumps at Centurion.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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