Talisman back for Australians

2009-01-22 00:00

THIS morning’s pivotal third one-day international at the Sydney Cricket Ground will go a long way to deciding what has been an enthralling series thus far.

Locked at 1-1 after cliffhangers at the MCG and at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart on Sunday, Australia and the Proteas look likely to produce another tense affair at the batsman-friendly SCG.

The Aussies have to go in as favourites today, firstly because of the confidence-boosting win in Hobart and also because of the return of left-arm slinger Mitchell Johnson. Rested since the Test series, Johnson will provide the home side variety, pace and reverse swing in the latter stages.

The aspiring all-rounder will also extend the Australians batting prowess should he be needed, as his exploits in the Test matches have proved.

“Mitchell was jumping out of his skin to get back in the nets to bat and bowl again,” said skipper Ricky Ponting about his talisman this week.

Johnson’s inclusion sees Ben Hifenhaus, who bowled the critical last over in Hobart, dropped from the Aussie line-up.

South Africa, meanwhile, may well go in with the same side that got so close in Hobart, only to leave too much work for the last two overs.

Jacques Kallis stands on the brink of 10 000 runs in this form of the game, but he would do well to score them at a much hastier rate than his casual 72 last week. Kallis and AB de Villiers’s stand in Hobart set the Proteas up for a final assault, but when they both fell within minutes of each other, they handed the initiative back to Ponting’s men.

Sadly, the ridiculously talented Herchelle Gibbs has simply not come to the party Down Under, looking lead-footed and uncertain against Nathan Bracken’s swing at the top of the innings.

An on-song Gibbs can easily propel South Africa to a hefty total, but his cheap dismissals thus far have placed enormous pressure on the middle order.

As many Australian commentators have observed, with a hint of desperation one might add, JP Duminy has to fail at some stage, and without his contributions Johan Botha’s side would have been humbled several times already.

Duminy has tried to shift the spotlight this week, saying it is Australia’s series to win — especially on home turf.

Whether or not Ponting feels that way, history would suggest that his side should prevail in Sydney. They have won the last four clashes against the Proteas at the venue, and they look the fresher side.

Several of South Africa’s key men have been under pressure to perform all summer. Australia, though, have been able to call on the likes of Bracken, Shaun Tait, Cameron White and new kid on the block David Warner.

With Botha preferring to chase and then favouring the use of his batting powerplay right at the end, there could yet be another Sydney classic in store today.

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

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

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