Proteas head coach, Ottis Gibson and fast bowler Kagiso Rabada during South African training. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
The time for talking and speculating is very nearly at an end as South Africa and Australia lock horns in what promises to be an intriguing four-Test series starting in Durban on Thursday.

Plenty has happened since they last met in red-ball cricket, back in 2016.

Then, South Africa produced a third straight Test triumph on Australian soil, thanks to some incisive bowling from the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Keshav Maharaj.

The composition of the South African attack has changed since then, but the fundamentals are still there.

Rabada will be the spearhead, Vernon Philander will be the unerring one, with his compass pointed on the top of off-stump, while the likes of Morné Morkel and Lungi Ngidi will provide the muscle.

Intriguingly, Wiaan Mulder has been added to the South African squad announced by convener Linda Zondi.

The young Highveld Lions all-rounder has better batting credentials than Andile Phehlukwayo, and probably bowls a heavier ball at this stage of their careers.

Coach Ottis Gibson liked him on the very first day that he was in the country, and it is a selection that also speaks to South Africa’s rather soft centre at the moment.

Their batting unit, still full of quality, has been desperately short on quality.

To add to that, the Proteas have also added the man of the moment, Heinrich Klaasen to the Test mix.

Klaasen has already shown that he is good enough to be considered purely on his batting credentials, and Zondi explained that he was too good to resist.

“Klaasen has been tremendously impressive in the white-ball matches he has played for the Proteas and we firmly believe he can become just as good a player in the five-day format,” said Zondi. “He has averaged nearly 50 with the bat in Sunfoil four-day cricket this season and hit two centuries.”

Runs, in bulk, are a priceless commodity in modern Test cricket.

Australia demoralised England by sheer weight of runs in the recent Ashes series, thanks in main to a Bradman-esque summer from skipper Steve Smith.The Aussie leader has become a terrific run machine, one not content with just making the odd contribution. He looks to own a series, and South Africa will prize his wicket more than any other.

At the top of the order, David Warner will do what he does best, and look to get off to a cracking start.

The Marsh brothers helped themselves to centuries against England, too, and Mitchell Marsh’s potent kick around the new ball stage is something the Proteas have to be wary off.

Australia, to their immense credit, bat very deep, which means teams can’t relax even when they have them seven or eight wickets down.

Lower-order runs will play a role in the outcome of this series, and South Africa’s bowlers already know that they will have to put in a shift against a very quick attack.

The selection of Mulder suggests that South Africa may reconsider their options if things are not going well after a couple of matches.

This series will see the bulk of the matches played on the coast, which should see Nathan Lyon and Keshav Maharaj come into the reckoning in the latter stages of each contest.

Lyon enjoyed a wonderful Ashes series while Maharaj was on part-time duty against India.

That private battle, much like so many others such as Smith against Faf du Plessis and Mitchell Starc against Rabada, will go a long way to deciding a much-anticipated battle of giants.

The bowling attacks, it could be argued, cancel each other out. On pitches not quite as tasty as those offered for the Indian visit, it is weight of runs that will settle the matter.

To this point in the season, Australia have filled their boots.

The Proteas, meanwhile, will be hoping that they have been banking their bounty for the ultimate foe. It promises to be thrilling.

The first Test between South Africa and Australia is at Kingsmead, Durban, from Thursday.


SOUTH AFRICA: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morné Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungisani Ngidi Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada

Australia: Steve Smith (capt), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc


First Test: Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5

Second Test: St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13

Third Test: Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26

Fourth Test: Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. All 10am starts

Sunday Tribune

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