JOHANNESBURG - Australia won’t be caught cold ahead of the first Test in the manner India were at the start of January, the tourists having had valuable practice from a tough three-day match against South Africa A in Benoni.
Unlike the Indians, who chose a form of fancy squad training before the New Year’s Test, the Australians insisted on playing a proper match, that carried first-class status and one that became very competitive on the last day as they chased down 140 for the loss of five wickets.
Mitchell Starc, who bowled 29 overs across the three days, picking up five wickets and batting for nearly an hour in Australia’s first innings, said his teammates would “take heaps out of,” their five-wicket win.
For Starc and the other Australian seam bowlers, who hadn’t played cricket for three weeks, it provided the best run around they could have asked for. While for the batsmen, particularly opener Cameron Bancroft who struggled in the Ashes, the chance to get accustomed to what was a tricky surface at Willowmoore Park, which may well be replicated during the four-Test series, given the nature of Test pitches prepared in SA recently, was crucial.
“The ball probably does a lot more for longer here than it does back home,” Starc said about bowling in SA.
There was certainly plenty of swing on offer - something that encouraged all the Australian quicks, though they admitted once the ball got soft a more disciplined approach was needed.
The pitches will be a major talking point again, but it may be detrimental to the home team’s chances if they were to ask for surfaces as lively as those prepared for the first and third Tests against the Indians.
For all the complaints that emanated from the SA camp during the Centurion Test against India, it is probably on that kind of surface that the home team will stand the best chance of defeating Steve Smith’s team.
Viewers may want a series where the high-quality quick bowlers on both sides get the ball flying past batsmen’s noses, but the home team’s tactics for defeating this Australian team, may depend on them adopting a more subtle approach.
Both teams' batting has not been in the best of shape this summer, with the Australians too reliant on Smith against the English, while all the South Africans lacked consistency.
The Australians made their way to Durban on Sunday, content with their exploits in Benoni, but aware there’s a lot they need to work on ahead of day one on Thursday.
“I think there’s always a couple of series a year where the whole cricketing world turns to and it feels like this series is going to be one,” said Cummins.
“I feel like we play a similar brand of cricket, both try and be quite aggressive and brave and take the game on.
"And both teams have some fast bowlers that want to bowl fast and intimidate the batsmen. I think it’s going to be a great series.”