DURBAN - Ahead of Thursday's start of the Test series between South Africa and Australia, there will be several players who will be looked at to have a massive say in the final outcome.
The nature of tussles between the two suggests that there will be standout individual performances, and those will likely determine the outcome of the series as a whole.
In 2011, Pat Cummins came off age, Faf du Plessis came into full bloom in 2012 in Australia, while 2016 saw Keshav Maharaj announce himself as SA’s spinner for the next decade.
Ahead of the 2018 instalment, we look at three key men on both sides, who could steal the plaudits with their unique skills.
Quinton de Kock: The dashing wicketkeeper-batsman has been off-key for the last few months, but he came back into the team with a spring in his step. Back at No 7, he still possesses the ability to take the game away from a wilting attack. His keeping, meanwhile, has come on in leaps and bounds, and he is now a game-changer behind the stumps.
Vernon Philander: The 32 year-old lives for meetings with Australia, especially when it happens under the mountain. Philander hits the seam more than any other new-ball bowler, and Australia’s go-forward style suits his line perfectly.
Morne Morkel: The lanky strike bowler has done an uncommon thing, and reinvented himself in the latter stages of his Test career. A fuller length, a straighter line, and more than a hint of reverse-swing have now been added to his skill-set, on top of steep bounce and sharp pace. Given his announcement that he will be retiring, he is also not short of motivation for the last four matches of his international career.
Usman Khawaja: Australia’s No 3 was one of the few, shining Australian lights in the 2016 series. The left-hander always looks the part when at the crease, and the slower conditions that will be in play for most of the series will play into his silky hands. He is comfortable against pace, and is not afraid to use his feet and attack the slow bowlers. While everyone focusses on Steve Smith behind him, Khawaja could pile on the runs.
Nathan Lyon: The self-appointed irritation factor in the Australian side, Lyon is far more than just a sledger with stock ball. He has excellent control of his pace and bowling arc, and his confidence would have swelled even more after the Ashes. Kingsmead, on day four and five, could be a minefield for him, and he is a momentum bowler.
Josh Hazlewood: All of the headlines about the Australian bowling line-up have focussed on the return of Pat Cummins to SA, as well as the sheer gas of Mitchell Starc. And yet, the lanky Hazlewood has the perfect combination of pace, precision and persistence. His 6/89 in Hobart deserved better than defeat, and he will love the extra help to be found on SA tracks. He simply doesn’t go away.