SOUTH AFRICA have barely had to move through the gears over the last fortnight on their safari just north of the border. They clinically, if not in any stimulating fashion, trounced their hosts in the one-off Test, and performed a similar mechanical job in the one-day series.
AB de Villiers’s men will know though that the tranquility they have enjoyed in the African bush thus far will soon be disrupted when the mighty Australians arrive for the triangular one-day series, which features the hosts, the Proteas and Michael Clarke’s World No 1-ranked one-day team.
Any contest between South Africa and Australia gets the engines revving just a little bit more, regardless of whether the location is Harare and not the concrete jungles of Melbourne or Johannesburg, and considering the ill-tempered Test series when these two teams last met, there will certainly be plenty of spice in this potjie.
Although these two teams meet again in a few months Down Under as a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup in Australasia, a couple of victories now for either team over their arch-rivals will certainly be a significant confidence booster.
WHO TO WATCH?
Australia: Nathan Lyon
Considered a Test specialist for a long while, the ever-improving off-spinner has begun to shrug off that label with consistent performances for the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash T20 and Australia’s domestic limited-overs tournament.
In an indication of how serious Australia’s management are pushing his development in all forms of the game, the oldest-looking 26-year-old, who sports a generous receding hairline, has been under the tutorship of the great Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan recently.
The Harare Sports Club pitch is expected to favour spin as the local groundsman operate under strict instructions to nullify the visitors’ much-vaunted pace attacks, and with Lyon the solitary specialist spinner in the Australian squad, he could not ask for better conditions to book his ticket to cricket’s biggest party in his own backyard next year.
South Africa: AB de Villiers
A lean De Villiers run is always relative, especially as just three one-dayers ago, the South African captain struck an electrifying hundred to seal a first-ever ODI series victory in Sri Lanka for his team.
But this is Abraham Benjamin de Villiers we are talking about. Pound-for-pound the world’s best batsman, whose combination of astonishing skill and precision timing allows him to play shots that mere mortals can only dream of. And for that reason, the 30-year-old’s bounty of 29 runs split across three innnings, including a Test match, on this Zimbabwe trip has raised a few eyebrows.
Perhaps De Villiers is like another great South African batsman, Barry Richards, who seemed to suffer from boredom when the opposition was not of the highest quality. However, with the Australians in town, South Africa will surely expect to have their skipper leading from the front again.
Zimbabwe: Brian Vitori
There is a popular advert on South Africa’s pay channel that sees a young left-arm seamer deliver a splendid delivery that sends Pakistan master batsman Younus Khan’s leg-stump cart-wheeling.
Unfortunately that sight has been a rarity since for the promising fast-medium bowler from Masvingo as the 24-year-old has struggled with a chronic ankle injury for the past 12 months. Vitori, though, has gingerly returned to action during the preceding series against the Proteas, but it was clear that he has yet to reach full fitness.
However, such is his importance to the Zimbabwean attack – he is their lone strike bowler able to reach speeds of close to 140km/h and swing the ball back into the right-hander – that it was imperative that he get some gametime ahead of the tri-series. Perhaps now with the benefit of playing a couple of games in Bulawayo, we will get to see why the advert dubbed him the “Rising Star”.
Australia: The last time Clarke led his team into any form of battle, Graeme Smith was still his adversary, but Smith has long since settled into the world of retirement by lining up consultant roles and supporting his wife Morgan on her Idols musical adventure. So, much has changed over the winter and it will take a while for the Aussies to find their full throttle, and in a tournament that is as congested as this one, it may just be a little too late.
South Africa: In contrast, the Proteas are battle-hardened after their historic success in Sri Lanka and their efforts on this trip. They will also feel more comfortable in the conditions, having been in Zimbabwe for three weeks already.
What should South Africa be wary of then? The simple fact that they will be facing the Aussies. The Proteas last beat Australia in an ODI series back in 2008-09.
Zimbabwe: Facing the World’s No 1 and 3-ranked teams respectively was always going to be a gargantuan task for Elton Chigumbura’s young side. The aura of Mitchell Johnson and Steyn alone has the potential to deliver some embarrassing results, which could prompt the hosts to believe they need to do something spectacular to avoid a pasting.
However, the likes of Brendan Taylor, with his vast experience, should convey the message that through application of the basics and remaining calm under the expected pressure will hopefully ensure it does not become two terribly long weeks in the nation’s capital for the hosts.
WHO WILL TRIUMPH?
With Zimbabwe no more than a third wheel to the heavyweight couple of South Africa and Australia, it is expected that they will be spectators at their own party on September 6. An intriguing contest is on the cards, with either team capable of hoisting the silverware.