Zaahier Adams in Harare
It may not sit alongside the game’s infamous statements like Tony Greig's "we'll make 'em grovel'' speech before the West Indies arrived in England in 1976 or David Lloyd’s “we flippin’ murdered ‘em” after the English drew with Zimbabwe back in 1996, especially due to the political tensions connected with it, but yesterday Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh certainly took out a red flag and waved it at the South African pace bowling artillery ahead of their clash tomorrow at the Harare Sports Club.
Still fresh from deputising at No 3 in the absence of his injured captain Michael Clarke, Marsh was full of bravado after clubbing 89 off 83 balls during a blistering 109-run partnership with Glenn Maxwell in the Tri-Series opener against the hosts Zimbabwe, and promptly claimed “I’m certainly not scared or anything” when asked whether the challenge of facing the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel might just be a slightly different prospect than the timid offerings of Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara.
Perhaps it was the innocence of youth – Marsh is the youngest member of the Australian squad at 22 – or the plain excitement of his maiden ODI half-century, he clarified his statement by saying “I'm looking forward to the opportunity to face those guys. Hopefully I can play a role for the team". It certainly, though, won’t go unnoticed in the Proteas changing room, adding further heat to a contest that already has created a sense of expectation among the locals not seen in these parts since the 2003 World Cup.
Steyn and Co. will likely get an opportunity to unleash their vitriol on young Marsh due to Australia’s regular skipper Clarke's continued troubles with a hamstring injury. Stand-in leader George Bailey told their media last night that ''Hopefully 'Pup' will be right for the back end of this series. Rest up for the first couple and then get himself right.''
The Proteas, though, are certainly not being lulled into any form of baiting with all-rounder JP Duminy believing that Clarke’s absence would not detract from the challenge facing the South Africans. In fact, Marsh’s innings simply emphasised it further.
“He (Clarke) is a key component (to the Australian team). But Australia’s strength has always been their back-up and depth of their squad. If you look at their top-order there are still some formidable players in the line-up. It’s not going to be any easy challenge, they have a lot of match-winners and we will need to find a way to curb them,” Duminy said yesterday.
A plan certainly needs to be formulated to “curb” not only the in-form Marsh, but the also the explosive Glenn Maxwell. The “Big Show”, as he is known in Australia, certainly lived up to his billing by scattering balls all over the picturesque ground during his blazing 46-ball 93 (9x4, 5x6) yesterday.
South Africa employed a spin-based attack during the preceding bilateral ODI series against Zimbabwe, utilising all of Imran Tahir, Aaron Phangiso and Duminy’s skils. However, with Maxwell’s astounding ability to switch-hit sixes against the slower bowlers, the Proteas could revert to the tried-and-trusted, especially with Steyn and Morkel well-rested after being sent home to the bush to recuperate during the Bulawayo leg of this tour last week.
“The wicket in Harare is a lot slower so it might be a strategy that we might try and use,” Duminy said of the spin factor. “But our strength has always been our pace attack, we are going to rely on that no matter what conditions we are faced with. The great thing about our seam attack is that they can adapt to all conditions so it will be a good challenge for us.”
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt), JP Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell/Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.
Australia: Brad Haddin (wk), Aaron Finch, Mitchell Marsh, George Bailey (capt), Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon.
TV: SS2, Start: 9:30am