PORT ELIZABETH – After an emphatic victory in the first Test in Durban, Australia would look to take an unassailable lead in the four-match series when they play South Africa in the second Test starting Friday at St George's Park, Port Elizabeth.
A 113-run victory in Durban was brought about by commendable performances with the bat and ball. Mitchell Starc picked up nine wickets in the match to reach a career-high on the ICC Men's Test Rankings while Mitchell March's 96 in the first innings helped Australia post a challenging total.
“It was a nice way to start, especially against a top-quality opposition. I'm really pleased with the way the boys played, Mitch Marsh coming in with 96, the way the tail contributed, that was obviously the difference in the end. A really good game of cricket,” Australia captain Steve Smith said at the end of the Test.
Having been bowled out for only 162 in the first innings, South Africa were set a daunting target of 417 runs to win the match. A brilliant 143 by Aiden Markram and a half-century by Quinton de Kock sparked some hopes of a miraculous victory before Australia came back in the game and bowled the hosts out for 298. The pressure would be on the hosts to lift their game and level the series in Port Elizabeth.
Going into this Test, South Africa would expect a better first-innings performance from their side. AB de Villiers had pointed out the lack of partnerships as the main reason behind their capitulation in the first innings, which was echoed by captain Faf du Plessis. The senior batsmen – de Villiers, Hashim Amla and du Plessis – would have to step up and take on a confident Australian team.
“Our first innings total was always under par, that's the batters responsibility, we didn't have enough partnerships. To lose by 100-odd runs, we know we didn't have enough in the first innings,” du Plessis said.
While Australia had a nearly-perfect game in Durban, they allowed Markram and de Kock to put together a 147-run stand for the sixth wicket in the second innings comes as an area of improvement.
Late resurgence and lower-order resistance are the things the visitors have to be wary against, considering that South Africa boast of a lower order that has the likes of Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, who have shown glimpses of their batting prowess in the past.
Since the conclusion of the Test, it's been tense between the teams, with Nathan Lyon, David Warner and Quinton de Kock all being pulled up for Code of Conduct breaches. Both teams should be charged up and raring to go.
Mitchell Marsh was touted as the “difference between the two teams” by De Villiers at the end of the first innings.
Marsh deserved the accolade as his 96 in the first innings lifted a sub-par total to the one Australia eventually got. Marsh's success since being brought back to the Australian set-up during the Ashes has been phenomenal and he has scored one century and three half-centuries in his last ten Test innings.
Marsh will be an important component of Australia's lower-order batting and would also serve as the fifth bowler.
After a subdued series against India, Markram rose to prominence in Durban and hit, arguably, the best knock of his Test career so far. During his innings of 143 in the second innings at Durban, Markram gave South Africa hopes of a miraculous victory, before Starc and Co. brought Australia back in the game.
The opening batsman gives experienced opener Dean Elgar good support at the top of the order and as it was seen in Durban, he also possesses the ability to grind it out under pressure and bat with the middle and the lower-middle order.
A maximum temperature of 25ºC and a minimum temperature of 14ºC is predicted for the opening day of the Test with a humidity of 57%. No showers are expected for the entire duration of the Test match.
The Port Elizabeth pitch might be on the slower side as the one-day international between India and South Africa, which was the last international match played at the venue, suggested. South Africa were bowled out for 204 in that game and India chased the target down in 32.1 overs.
The squads for the second Test:
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi 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 (wk), Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
African News Agency (ANA)