Steyn set to strike early blows

2009-02-25 00:00

THE Wanderers has been a happy hunting ground for past Australian touring teams, with three victories and a draw being their haul from the “Bullring” since isolation.

Two of those victories were by an innings, with a mammoth stand between the incomparable Steve Waugh and Greg Blewett a timeless beacon of Australia’s dominance of South Africa in the nineties.

Such results will be the last thing on Ricky Ponting’s mind this morning when he steps out for the toss with Proteas counterpart Graeme Smith.

Overhead gloom all week suggests that the toss, one of the few parts of the game Ponting dominated in Australia, will take added significance.

Whoever wins it will surely bowl and look to exploit a wicket that has been wrapped up, an ideal surface for South African spearhead Dale Steyn.

The slingy Titans speedster rose to the occasion Down Under, particularly in Melbourne where he picked up 10 wickets in the series-clinching win.

His pace, added to an ability to move the ball late, will be a potent weapon for Smith if he finally wins the toss.

Bowling to a debutant, in front of a baying home crowd, Steyn could fire a hearty, early salvo for the Proteas this morning.

The South Africans named their squad two weeks ago, and the starting side will almost certainly be the same that did duty in Perth.

For the tourists, however, it is all change.

Gone is Matthew Hayden, Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds.

The highly-rated Phil Hughes takes over from Hayden at the top of the order, Ben Hilfenhaus is set to step into Lee’s shoes, but the number six all-rounder’s slot is yet to be decided.

Marcus North, a left-handed batsman who bowls handy off-spin, had a terrific start to his tour in Potchefstroom, but he faces competition from steady medium-pacer Andrew McDonald.

Whoever the Aussies plump for, the Wanderers will provide a stern test of nerves for this new-look Australian side.

Seldom has an Australian team been so inexperienced on such a pivotal tour.

The fact that the Test world championship is the carrot being dangled in front of him has not been lost on Smith.

The Proteas leader has spoken of dominating the Australians, playing the superior cricket over the next six weeks and thus embarking on a long period of world rule.

Brave words indeed, but South Africa have now inherited a new opponent due to their continued success. They have expectations instead of quiet confidence and hope.

That small shift in mindset was one that Ponting immediately latched on to upon arrival at O.R. Tambo International last week.

Not much else has been shared by the two captains, aside from a cautious welcome of the ICC’s referral system, which will be used during the series.

After an excellent, fair series in Australia, one hopes that the return edition is not a stop-start affair littered with desperate players questioning the decisions of Billy Bowden and the soon to be retired West Indian, Steve Bucknor.

It is hoped, certainly, that the cricket itself is clear enough and thrilling enough to put the controversial topic of technology in the shade.

It has only been six weeks, but finally the Proteas and the Aussies will renew their epic battle for the ranking of top Test team.

It should be a humdinger.

South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wk), Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini.

Australia (likely): Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus.

• Lungani Zama will be covering the Test from the Wanderers.

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