Oz’s top spot on the line

2009-01-29 00:00

THE Proteas may have sewn up the ODI series in Australia with a game to spare, but they still have much to play for in today’s day-night affair at the Waca in Perth.

A win for Johan Botha’s side will not only mean a resounding 4-1 series triumph, but will also push the Proteas past Australia in the ICC one-day rankings.

One thing that Graeme Smith’s Test heroes failed to do was to wrest the top spot from their hosts, and Botha will be determined to finish off the fine tour with a flourish.

Ironically, it is now South Africa who seem to suffer from “dead rubber syndrome”.

For years, it was the Aussies who would wrap up series early before losing the final match with one foot already on the plane home.

It would be easy for the Proteas to take the foot off the pedal, considering their immense achievements on their travels already.

But if they are to become cricket’s frontrunners, they need to quickly develop a ruthless streak.

The team itself will see several changes, and that may play into the hurting Australians’ hands.

Pace spearhead Dale Steyn will finally put his feet up, while his wily sidekick Makhaya Ntini is also set to be handed a break after a long tour.

In their place the left-armed duo from the Warriors, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell, will make their 50-over international debuts.

In a twist of fate Tsotsobe, who is reportedly very close with his Warriors team-mate Ntini, will make his international bow at the same ground that Ntini did 11 years ago.

Ntini took 3/31 that day, against Stephen Fleming’s Black Caps, to launch his remarkable career.

Tsotsobe will be hoping for a similar introduction to the big time.

With all-rounder Jacques Kallis also pencilled in to sit out, provided Vaughn van Jaarsveld is fit, the South African line-up will be one of very limited experience.

Much will again depend on the off-spin and tactical acumen of Botha, who has seen his stock rise steadily during the series.

Australia, meanwhile, will welcome back vice-captain Michael Clarke who will add a touch of class to a middle order that has been susceptible to dramatic collapses.

Another major boost for Ricky Ponting will be the return of Nathan Bracken.

In his absence, the fast but predictable trio of Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus have suffered at the hands of a rejuvenated Herschelle Gibbs.

The Australians, slaughtered by their own press this week after their humiliating loss on Australia Day, will be looking to restore some pride.

For Botha and company, nothing would be sweeter than a final victory to prolong the grin on coach Mickey Arthur’s face.

• In a major blow before their return series in South Africa next month, Australia were told yesterday that mercurial fast bowler Stuart Clark will miss the tour of South Africa as he continues to recover from surgery on his elbow.

Already missing Brett Lee, the Australians will again depend on Mitchell Johnson to lead a vastly inexperienced pace attack.

TEAMS

Australia: Shaun Marsh, David Warner, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, David Hussey, Brad Haddin (wk), James Hopes, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Ben Hilfenhaus.

South Africa (likely): Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Neil McKenzie, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Johan Botha (capt), Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

TV TIMES: Live on SuperSport 2 from 5.45am.

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