at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Brisbane - It was almost like the good old days at the Gabba. As Mickey Arthur was being interviewed by the media on the Australian “open day” on Tuesday, Graeme Smith walked past and jokily called out: “Still talking the same old rubbish”, to which his former coach responded with a broad grin.
The atmosphere will, of course, be very different in two days’ time when the world’s No 1 and No 3 teams go to war here.
Asked about Arthur’s widely reported remark on Tuesday concerning Dale Steyn bowling better to right-handers than left-handers (Australia have five lefties in their top seven), Proteas coach Gary Kirsten smiled and said: “Put it this way, we’ll use it as good motivation.”
Steyn’s five-over spell at the end of the warm-up match in Sydney on Sunday certainly indicated the kind of intensity he can ramp up when required, and Arthur may not have done his left-handers any favours by making that remark.
It should be noted that Steyn’s record against left-handers during the recent England series is not that shabby. Steyn dismissed the England opening batsmen on four occasions, Alastair Cook suffering three times and Andrew Strauss once. Mike Hussey has also struggled recently against the great pace bowler.
One virtue invariably exercised by Kirsten is that he doesn’t make statements that can be stuck up on the opposition’s dressing-room wall. During yesterday’s interview, he refused to take the opportunity to confirm that his pace attack is the “best ever”, or that his leading batsman, Jacques Kallis, “is the best since Bradman”.
In both instances, he said he was “mindful” of all the great batsmen and bowlers who have played Test cricket in the last hundred years, while at the same time saying that his men were excellent cricketers. The attack of Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morné Morkel, he said, was an “exceptional” one, not least for the variety of skills they brought to their bowling and the fact that they all backed themselves in tight situations.
Kirsten was happy to admit that Kallis was a great cricketer, proven over many years, and that anybody would regard his inclusion as “gold dust” because of his all-round skills and the balance he brings to a team.
Kirsten then emphasised an aspect of his value that rarely gets an airing. “Jacques is at a stage in his career where he’s adding great value to the team environment. He passes on really good information to the young players. He’s got such a good knowledge of the game, and I like to use that as much as I can.”
Kirsten also ignored the lure to put the bite on Aussie veterans Ricky Ponting, 38, and Michael Hussey, 37, and their supposed vulnerability to genuinely fast bowling.
“I think I can say from experience (Kirsten retired at 36 after playing 101 Tests) that when you get challenged, you step up to the plate.
“Those guys haven’t got the records they have from just pitching up. They are both class acts and are just the kind of guys to step up when they need to. We expect nothing less in this series.”
One of the burning issues surrounding the match is the predicted state of the Gabba pitch.
From a distance, the strip looks straw-coloured, but that’s because a lot of dead grass is resting on top of the surface. Sweep that away and there’s a thick layer of green grass underneath.
Both coaches, however, are aware that there are still two days to go before the match. Kirsten said: “Right now, it looks as though it’s heading towards being a very good wicket”, while Arthur said that the big thing about the Gabba pitch was its bounce.
Hussey, who knows about these things, made the sensible suggestion that the curator wouldn’t create a sulphurous greentop because the South African attack would be able to exploit it as well.
Meanwhile, the South Africans had a three-hour fielding and net session on Tuesday afternoon, probably their most intense of the tour. That will be repeated on Wednesday before the team tapers off on Thursday.