Officially, Australia is Test cricket’s No1 team once more … but by a fraction of a point over South Africa.
There may be much gnashing of teeth in this country, but, honestly, considering the last few months of Test cricket, it’s clear Michael Clarke’s team has been the best in the world. How did they prove it? Err, they beat South Africa right here on their own patch.
Now, you can make all the arguments you like about the convoluted mathematical system that highlights the fractions and subtracts 50percent off Test wins achieved three years ago, and places 100percent more emphasis on results in the last year, but the fact of the matter is South Africa slipped up last season.
In seven Tests, the won three, lost three and played out that much-debated draw at the Wanderers against India. Australia – yes against just two sides, and yes with the majority of their Tests at home – won seven of eight Tests.
Now what for both teams?
South Africa are on the cusp of a mini re-building phase, the major emphasis of which will be the new Test captain. South Africa play Sri Lanka in two Tests in July, Zimbabwe in a one-off Test in August and then the West Indies next summer. By January they could be back at No1 again.
A large part of South Africa’s drop in form was the result of a lack of game time for the side particularly in the Test format. While Australia were engaged in back-to-back five Test series against England, which came off the back of a four-Test series in India, South Africa had played just four Tests in nine months in 2013.
None of which is an excuse. They were outgunned by Mitchell Johnson at Centurion in that first Test, replied in sterling fashion in Port Elizabeth and were then strangely flat in the decider at Newlands.
By the end of the summer, the side had lost 283 Test caps worth of experience following the retirements of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. For the two Tests in Sri Lanka, there’ll be that new captain, a new opener and a new spinner in place, but the core of the side remains strong. Importantly, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn, are all aged between 29 and 31, which, form and fitness depending, provides South Africa with a more stable base from which to build.
The worry for Russell Domingo and the selectors is what the playing resources look like immediately behind the current Test team. Stiaan van Zyl is the only batsmen who has shown consistency over an extended period of time with the bat. Colin Ingram, Temba Bavuma and Dave Miller need to match that if they are to be considered Test standard players. The same could be said of Quinton de Kock, though if De Villiers is made Test captain, he’ll be forced into being Test ready very soon in order to take over behind the stumps.
The fast bowling is another concern with only Beauran Hendricks staking a claim among the fast bowlers. There’ll be a lot of eyes on Marchant de Lange’s progress next summer, while Kagiso Rabada is too young to warrant consideration at this stage. The spinning options actually look reasonable given the performances of Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt.
Australia too will embark on a period of change. Their two top quicks during their recent success, Johnson and Ryan Harris, are 32 and 34 respectively. Neither can be expected to perform with quite the same output in the next 12 months. However Australia’s fast bowling stocks look better than South Africa’s; with Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Jackson Bird and Nathan Coulter-Nile all set to push for starting places. From a batting perspective they’ll hope to keep Chris Rogers, 36, going for a while, and also hope Clarke’s back holds up.
It should all make for an interesting 12 months – Australia face Pakistan, probably in the UAE in October, before four home Tests against India. Who knows, by the time the prize-money is handed out for the No1 Test side (usually at the end of March) South Africa could be back in front by, 0.0005403 of a point. - The Star