Johannesburg - South Africa is set to start the first Test with Australia with five frontline bowlers, as skipper Dean Elgar has backed his under-fire batting unit to score sufficient runs on what is reportedly a heavily grassed Gabba pitch.
The Proteas had been debating the merits of carrying the extra batter should conditions appear to favour bowling in Brisbane, but on the eve of the opening match of the three Test series, Elgar hinted strongly that the tourists would use a 6-5 batter/bowler split.
“I’m pro (having) four fast bowlers with a spinner. Kesh has been an amazing asset for our team,” Elgar said on Friday.
The batting unit was under pressure anyway, given below-par returns of the last 18 months. “All the batters have to stand up. It's time for the guys to rise up, me personally to put my hand up and make a massive play for us. We’ve got a really talented group, they are a bit inexperienced when it comes to Test cricket, but that’s okay.”
Elgar and vice-captain Temba Bavuma are the only two batters who’ve played more than 50 Tests.
In addition Rassie van der Dussen missed a couple of months with a fractured finger, and only started batting again a few weeks ago, Bavuma hasn’t played a Test since April and there are questions marks around his confidence following the T20 World Cup debacle, while Theunis de Bruyn, who may slot in in the middle order, played his last Test three years ago.
Marco Jansen will bat at no.7, which looks like a spot too high for him in the order, although Elgar believes in his all-rounder credentials.
“With the bat, if I refer back to Lord’s, he really put in a massive performance. He’s still so raw in Test cricket. He’s definitely an all-rounder for us in the future, and if he does everything well he’s going to be an all-rounder for the next 10 years for us. I’m very confident about his ability.”
Australia’s captain Pat Cummins will return to lead the side after missing the second Test against the West Indies last week with a quad injury. Cummins also highlighted Jansen’s presence as something Australia had paid attention to.
“It looks like they've got a pretty well-rounded attack," said Cummins. "Whether they play four or five bowlers, they've got a good spinner, a left-armer - they're going to be a challenge.”
"(Jansen) is just that point of difference. I've never faced him, I think a few of the guys have faced him in T20 cricket. It just presents a different challenge. He's tall, left-arm. Visually they look a bit different as well. We've certainly been thinking about that this week."
Australia team: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (capt), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland
South Africa team (likely): Dean Elgar (capt), Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi