Johannesburg - South Africa’s cricket players must make a “mental shift” next week to come to terms with their first Test series without Jacques Kallis.
The upbeat Australians, who touched down in the country on Wednesday, are sure to spend plenty of time robustly reminding the South Africans about the absence of one the sport’s greatest players. How Graeme Smith’s men deal with that, could be one of the determining factors of a series where there is plenty at stake for both sides.
The national selectors have moved into the ‘Kallis-less’ era by picking both Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren as lower order all-rounders for a series which is already getting plenty of hype in light of Australia’s dismantling of England.
Imran Tahir, not surprisingly, was excluded from the squad, with Robin Peterson, who picked up four wickets in the second innings of the Test against in India in Durban, being deemed a more reliable spinning option.
South Africa’s coach, Russell Domingo, outlined the importance of the players coming to terms quickly with Kallis’ absence.
“Outside of his performances, just his presence in the change-room – being able to look around say ‘at least there’s Kallis to come’ – is going to be missed,” Domingo said yesterday. “We are not looking for another Jacques Kallis; we are looking for another player who can put in big performances. The mental shift will be just as important as the statistical shift – with not having Kallis there.”
Unusually for a home series, the South African squad will have 10 days together – including a two-day trip to a game reserve – which Domingo feels will be beneficial for a side, who despite an impressive record in recent years, have become notorious for the slow starts they’ve made to series’.
Part of their preparation will include a week’s three-day match at the Wanderers against an Invitation XI next week – that will be made up of members of the extended squad and players from the three franchise teams which don’t qualify for the RamSlam play-offs. That match will go a long way in determining which of McLaren or Parnell is likely to start the first Test in Centurion on February 12.
While McLaren’s dependability appears to give him the inside track, Parnell’s dynamism, especially with the ball. was highlighted by Domingo.
“He has improved his consistency in four-day cricket considerably. The big plus factor for me is that he can bowl 150km/h and is a left-armer, and we have not had a left-armer playing Test cricket for a while now.
“Added to that he is more than capable with the bat. He’s a good all-round package. There will be inconsistencies in his performance, he’s still young. It seems like he’s been around for a long time, but he’s still only 23.”
The duo have played just one Sunfoil Series match for their respective franchises this season – Parnell took a second innings fiver in a win for the Warriors over the Titans in December, while McLaren made handy contributions with bat and ball in a narrow victory for the Knights over the Cape Cobras at Newlands.
Domingo didn’t shy away from pushing a pace war, between what are currently the two best fast bowling units in the world. Domingo wants the pitch at SuperSport Park to assist fast bowling, believing South Africa’s batsmen are better suited to coping on such a surface against Australia’s much-hyped attack. “The nature of the Centurion pitch has changed, like Durban, it’s become slower and a bit more spin friendly.
“Obviously I want something that will assist our bowlers. Our DNA is made up of having wickets to help our fast bowlers, and our batsmen are able to deal with those type of challenges better than other sides.”
While that may be the case against every other international side, Australia, is the one team South Africa have failed to beat in a Test series on home soil in the post-isolation era. “Our record against them is not spectacular,” remarked Domingo.
Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, Morné Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Robbie Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile.
February 12: First Test, SuperSport Park, Centurion
February 20: Second Test St George’s, Port Elizabeth
March 1: Third Test, Newlands, Cape Town
March 9: First T20, St George`s, Port Elizabeth
March 12: Second T20, Kingsmead, Durban
March 14: Third T20, SuperSport Park, Centurion