Cape Town - South Africa captain Graeme Smith expects an even contest between bat and ball to set up a thrilling finale in the series-deciding third Test against Australia at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.
The wicket has been a key factor in the opening two Tests, a lively pitch helping Mitchell Johnson bowl Australia to a 281-run win in the series opener in Pretoria and a slower and more abrasive surface in Port Elizabeth aiding South Africa to get prodigious reverse-swing and claim a 231-run win.
“It looks like a really good Test wicket and will have something for both bat and ball,” Smith told reporters on Friday.
“It can get a bit flat and slow towards the back end if it is hot, but it has also changed of late and there has been a bit more in it than in the past.”
The Proteas captain said he expected a different type of wicket to the one that saw Australia bowled out for 47 in their second innings in 2011.
“I think the wicket has settled down quite a bit since then. That Test was also played in November just after winter.”
Smith denied that the South African team had asked Newlands curator Evan Flint for any specific type of wicket or that they had done so ahead of the second test.
“Port Elizabeth has been exactly the same for the last 40 years, I'm amazed that so much was made of the wicket after the Test. We knew exactly what to expect down there and we were the team that adapted best to the conditions.”
Smith has scored 37 runs in four innings in the series, but felt in good form and was looking forward to playing on a ground where he averages 52 over his career.
“I feel like I have been batting well the whole season, it is just these last two games. In Pretoria I felt I was unlucky there and I let myself down in Port Elizabeth.
“My training has gone well, mentally I feel in a good space. I have ticked all the boxes, it's now about going out there tomorrow and getting in.”
Having former coach and fellow left-handed opener Gary Kirsten back with the squad this week in a consultancy role has been a boost, Smith said.
“It's always nice to have Gary back, he always adds value with his calmness, experience and work rate. He is a great asset to us.”
Proteas coach Russell Domingo said that Australia opener David Warner's suggestion that AB de Villiers had been tampering with the ball in the second test would add extra-motivation to the side. Smith himself was clearly seething.
“He is becoming a little bit of a rent-a-quote. My thoughts are strong and I will probably say something towards the end of the test match. It's sad that it took the gloss off a great test win and a great performance.”
Five potential match deciders:
Runs from the captains
Graeme Smith and Michael Clarke have yet to make an impression with the bat in this series.For two players who have a combined 53 Test centuries to their names, the lack of runs is staggering. Of course it isn’t easy for either man; their respective teams bank on the old adage of “cutting off the snake’s head” and with such awesome fast-bowling armoury at their disposal the two captains are always going to be targets. Smith might get a pass given he’s opening the batting in the hardest country in the world in which to bat. Clarke’s looking at other middle order batsmen in this series, and seeing that they’ve scored four centuries between them – he’s under more pressure to make his starts count.
Johnson v Steyn
Yes ‘Mitch’ has four more wickets than ‘Dale-o’ but in terms of impact on the series it’s 1-1. With conditions in his favour Johnson scared the bejesus out of South Africa at Centurion, while in PE, Steyn utilised the conditions better, getting the ball to reverse swing to blast out Australia’s middle order in the second innings. Newlands is Steyn’s happiest hunting ground, 57 of his wickets have come there in 11 Tests at an average of 21.14. Johnson’s |impact in two Tests there was minimal. But what’s taken place in the past will have no bearing on what’s to come at Newlands over the next five days..
He simply has to play in Cape Town and if he does then he must bowl, says Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann. The problem for the Australians is that two of the star players from their first Test win were badly exposed in the second Test. Alex Doolan wafted about in PE, while Shaun Marsh lasted just three balls. The temptation would be to keep Marsh in, facing just three balls in PE is just too little evidence to say he’s suddenly lost form after making a century at Centurion. Doolan is new, and more easily able to be sacrificed. Watson can play at three, and offers a crafty option with the ball.
David Warner is averaging 65.75 in the series, having scored two half-centuries and a century – he’s also been dropped five times! At last count 10 catches have been put down by South Africa in this series. That is simply not a stat normally associated with South Africa, a team that at various stages of the sport’s history have redefined the way people view fielding. They were able to overcome all those errors – including some poor use of the DRS in PE, with Smith chirping afterwards: “We took something like 28 wickets in this Test.”
Like Ellis Park for the rugby team, Newlands is a fortress … at least when the opponents aren’t Australia. For, since the end of isolation, Australia actually have a better record than SA at Newlands – with three wins from five Tests. South Africa’s two wins, though, have come in the last two Tests there between the teams in 2009 and famously in 2011. Steyn and Vernon Philander tend to bowl well there too, while Smith averages 52.12 in 16 Tests at his home ground. - Reuters and The Star