Proteas: What to expect in Australia

Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - South Africa will face a desperate Australian outfit on their three-match ODI tour shortly.

For the sake of any elimination of complacency, the Proteas might do well to remind themselves that they will be playing the defending World Cup champions, just a few months short of the next one in England.

But the current Aussie 50-overs crew - hardly helped by the ongoing bans affecting keynote batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner - are nevertheless a shadow of the team that won the ultimate prize for a fifth time in 2015, seeing off neighbours New Zealand in the Melbourne final.

Put it this way: if the Aussies are to be viewed as serious, title-retention material in England next year, they need to begin a charge as quickly as possible – ideally kicking off with morale-lifting home triumph over the Proteas in the short but mutually valuable combat in early November.

Faf du Plessis and company will seek to hit the ground running (there is a lone warm-up match in Canberra on October 31, about a week after they land) as the series-proper will be done and dusted in the space of eight days: Perth (November 4), Adelaide (November 9) and Hobart (November 11).

There is a nominal, lone Twenty20 international at the Gold Coast on November 17, although that format carries little special relevance at national level presently.

It is all about increasingly urgent CWC fine-tuning now, both in selection and strategic terms, and the three ODIs oughtn’t lack intensity as a result.

While conditions Down Under might not seem the most ideal of preparation for a UK-hosted World Cup, it is perhaps no coincidence that the warm-up game and two of the three ODIs - Perth the only exception – will be day-nighters, enhancing the prospect of some seam movement.

The closing, possibly decisive fixture in Tasmania’s often chilly “deep south” state capital also seems a fitting choice of battleground if English conditions are hoping to be replicated in any manner.

South Africa are expected to reveal their squad on Thursday, and it will again not feature - unless there are surprise developments early this week – the name of veteran, accomplished opening batsman Hashim Amla who is recovering slowly from a finger injury.

Take away his 7 696 ODI runs, at a time when the Proteas are also still lamenting the retirement of 9 577-run AB de Villiers, and the likelihood remains that the tourists will continue to look about as iffy as their hosts in collective quality of present batting.

Yet there is a case for suggesting even at this early stage South Africa will go in as slight favourites, including based on their superior current ICC ranking of fourth.

The Aussies lie an extremely rare sixth, a position this ever-competitive nation will doubtless wish to rectify with some stealth.

Several of their best, multi-format cricketers are in the thick of two-Test action against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates - they earned a gutsy, heartening draw in the first clash in Dubai - but will be back in time for the ODIs against their old southern hemisphere rivals.

Which is just as well because the Aussies need to stop a fairly deep rot in the 50-overs environment.

They have lost all of their last four bilateral series, and usually by comprehensive margins, even if heavyweights England (twice) and India amount to three of those opponents.

The Aussies suffered a 5-0 sweep at the hands of the English earlier in the just-completed UK summer, and also lost 4-1 to them on home turf in 2017/18, when India similarly prospered 4-1 against them on the Subcontinent.

Throw in failure to reach the knockout phase of the 2017 Champions Trophy - though that was also SA’s fate – and a 2-0 away reverse to New Zealand, and you can see that they are way overdue for a change of fortune.

The last Australian ODI success was a 4-1 home triumph over the Pakistanis two summers back.

But there could also be certain, lingering mental scars in the looming combat against the Proteas, as Australia were thumped 5-0 the last time the countries met (in South Africa, 2016/17).

That said, the Proteas have only won once before on a strictly bilateral basis on Aussie soil itself - there have been several multi-nation tournaments involving both - and that was in 2008/09, when acting captain Johan Botha led a 4-1 outcome immediately after a famous, drought-breaking Test series win Down Under.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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