SA in the way of Oz ambitions

2009-01-25 00:00

AUSTRALIA celebrates their heritage today — Australia Day, to be official — and Ricky Ponting and company know that nothing less than a win in Adelaide will do in terms of adding to the festivities and, more importantly, keeping the series alive.

In their way stands a resolute South African unit, who have continuously defied the odds and must really fancy their chances to wrap up the one-day series to seal an extremely rare clean sweep of series on a tour Down Under.

Central to the Proteas’ success has been the stand-in captain Johan Botha. Though his elevation from bit- part player to vice-captain last year was rather sudden, he has impressed with his creativity and energy on the field, not to mention his excellent form with the ball.

Botha has enhanced his repuatation greatly over the last month, having added a fine top-spinner and greater control to his quick off-breaks.

Already shorn of the services of Graeme Smith, the Proteas will now have to do without the nuggety veteran keeper Mark Boucher, who has broken a toe and was already nursing a thumb injury.

AB de Villiers will don the gloves, and the move may yet play to the Proteas’ advantage. They can play an extra bowler, as Jacques Kallis is nursing a side strain, and Albie Morkel will move up in the order and this could see him get time to actually build an innings before he looks for the big hits.

“I am training to play at eight, as it is perfect to have guys down the order who can hit the ball out of the park in the Powerplay. That puts pressure on the fielding team,” Morkel said earlier this week.

His task will be a lot easier as Austrlia’s mercurial “death bowler”, Nathan Bracken, is out with a calf strain.

Bracken’s variety and experience has been central to Ponting’s bowling plans, and the South African batsmen will breathe a collective sigh of relief to see the back of him.

Though they are yet to fire as a unit, they have all showed glimpses of form during the series. It was Herschelle Gibbs’s turn on Friday, as he lit up the Sydney Cricket Ground with a stunning array of strokes to Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, who both regularly nudge the 150km/h mark.

An on-fire Gibbs makes the Proteas an altogether more formidable unit. He scores quickly, and almost demoralises bowling attacks, as Tait’s shell-shocked reaction to some of his strokes clearly illustrated.

Botha will be hoping that Gibbs produces more fireworks today to seal the thrilling five-match series and wreck the Aussie celebrations on their big holiday.

TEAMS

South Africa (probable): Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy,Neil McKenzie, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Johan Botha (capt), Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini.

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

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