Cape Town – Is there such a thing as a weak Australian cricket side?
South Africa will find out soon enough when the Aussies arrive on Monday for a three-match KFC Twenty20 international series, the last opportunity for both countries to tweak plans for the ICC World Twenty20 in India soon afterwards.
Australia have just marched back to No 1 – once a customary position for them – on the Test ladder, which equals their current status in one-day internationals.
But their single-format-only visit to these shores for respective matches against the Proteas in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town in the space of six days (March 4-9) sees them arrive an unusually lowly eighth in T20 terms.
That is only one berth above the “might” of Afghanistan, so clearly there is some work to be done by them in the shortest environment.
But the rankings can also be deceptive, as Australia have not exactly been prolific in a T20 context since the last World T20 in Bangladesh (2014), and seemingly placed much superior – and clearly productive -- emphasis on the other two formats.
The Aussies have only played eight T20 internationals since that Bangladeshi-staged event, winning three and losing five, including a recent 0-3 home thumping at the hands of India.
That is considerably fewer than, for instance, major rivals like the currently in-form, second-ranked Proteas (played 14, won nine, lost five) or India (played 11, won six, lost five); there will some cobwebs for Australia to brush off and skills to sharpen.
Yet they are the sort of cricketing superpower always likely to become more “switched on” to T20 whenever an ICC tournament comes along, rather than in relatively low-gravitas bilateral series.
On that note, neither of the Proteas or Aussies have yet won the WT20, although the latter did make the 2010 final in the Caribbean, when beaten by Paul Collingwood’s England – SA have been to the semis twice.
Australia also boast bragging rights from the last time they tackled the Proteas at T20 level, winning 2-1 Down Under last season; it went down to the second-last ball of the Sydney decider with Cameron White scrambling the vital, necessary run.
Faf du Plessis and company are probably too street-smart to be fooled by a few relatively “mystery” names in the touring Aussie squad – quickie Andrew Tye (from Western Australia) and leg-spinner Adam Zampa (New South Wales, and famous for effecting a bizarre, televised nasal-deflection run-out this season) are products of the strong Big Bash League.
But they will also lock horns with potentially devastating, established limited-overs sluggers like the combative David Warner, Shane Watson, Steve Smith and Aaron Finch.
Easy meat? No, quite probably not.
And that’s perfect, considering what’s to come for both foes just a little later.
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