The Proteas know lightning can strike twice and hoodoos can be broken

2012-11-09 00:00

THERE are many points to be proven when the first Test begins in Brisbane today. Two of those are AB de Villiers’s durability behind the wickets and Jacques Rudolph’s mettle.

By the time this column is read, there could be a major shift in proceedings at the Gabba in Brisbane, where the first Test between South Africa and Australia is being held. Whether the visitors go on to inflict the first defeat of Australia at their citadel in 24 years is not a moot point. How they go about the win, draw or defeat will be what counts.

It is a fair bet that Australia will feed off momentum gained in Brisbane. Even though New Zealand, spearheaded by Doug Bracewell and Dean Brownlie, ambushed them in Hobart after the habitual thrashing a week earlier, it was India who felt the brunt of the beating, as they were outbowled, outbatted and outfielded.

South Africa carry a much more youthful, exuberant and athletic team with a steelier spine.

They cannot subside as easily as an under-motivated Indian side, who had been deposed by England earlier in the season and had won the World Cup on home soil. They were the ripest apples in the orchard and at some stage they had to be eaten or left to rot.

It will be a series where three players will come into the spotlight: Graeme Smith, Jacques Rudolph and AB de Villiers, and for a variety of reasons. Smith, now 31, has achieved almost everything a Test captain can achieve. He has outdone Allan Border in terms of Tests played as captain and Test series wins in England. He could outshine Clive Lloyd and become the first captain to win consecutive Test series in Australia. Whether the motivation and the desire to achieve a goal that has been scaled remains to be seen. In England, with the Test mace at stake, they showed that lightning can strike twice and hoodoos can be broken. The Hashim Amla show can never be forgotten.

It is also a series that could decide De Villiers’s role in the side and make or break Rudolph’s career. I am a fan of all-rounders in sides, as they lessen the responsibilities of the main batsmen, but it should not come at the expense of personal performance. In De Villiers’s case, the well of runs — so full when the gloves have been shed — has all but dried up. I have reiterated the Alec Stewart case many a time: South Africa can ill afford to waste a talent as precocious as De Villiers, as England did when they chased balance.

His runs were important in 2008 as he finished what Smith had started in the 414-run chase in Perth and they are today. To hear a former player like Makhaya Ntini say that Thami Tsolekile is being kept out because of the colour of his skin has been disheartening and in some ways scandalous, but it is safe to say that he would not have been given the same amount of time to settle into that role. When the likes of Adam Gilchrist scream for the return of specialist wicketkeepers, all is not well in the land of the glovemen.

If there is a person who would have to make way for Tsolekile, it is Rudolph. For all his silky strokeplay, which I often enjoy, especially his cover-driving, his appetite for a scrap has unnervingly disappeared.

With JP Duminy in the inside lane and with an even bigger point to prove after his own 2008 heroics, Rudolph will have to stiffen his resolve.

The Australians may not be as strong as they were in the past, but they can still ruthlessly exploit a weakness. Just ask Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

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