Johannesburg - Steve Smith says he has a point to prove against South Africa’s much vaunted bowling attack, given how previous generations of Proteas bowlers have tied him down.
Smith, who took over as captain for the second Test against the West Indies last week, with Pat Cummins absent due to injury, was full of praise for the Proteas attack, particularly the pace and variety thereof.
“That's the key to any attack, is having that variety so you're never getting into a real rhythm as a batter,” said Smith. "South Africa provide that, they have (Anrich) Nortje bowling 150 (km/h), (Kagiso) Rabada 140 to 150 bowling slightly different, then a left-armer in (Marco) Jansen as well, and then a spinner in (Keshav) Maharaj.”
Smith averages 41.53 against the Proteas from nine Tests, which is his lowest for any team he has played at least three matches against. He has had epic battles with Rabada in Gqeberha - where shoulders were brushed - Dale Steyn in Centurion and Vernon Philander in Hobart.
“South Africa are the one team that have bowled pretty well to me in the past, my record's probably not as good against them as some of the others,” Smith acknowledged.
“Some of the bowlers I'm going to come up against (have been challenging when) I've come up against (them) previously. I'm really looking forward to the series like everyone else.”
Proteas bowling coach Charl Langeveldt said it was important to be accurate from the moment someone like Smith takes guard. “The key for their top six (batters) is the first 20 balls, and you have to make them play. Steve has changed, he is not on the move anymore, he’s got a good base now. It will be a good challenge for our boys,” Langeveldt said.
Langeveldt said SA were still not sure about the balance of their starting XI for the first Test at The Gabba on Saturday. Interim coach Malibongwe Maketa and captain Dean Elgar have said they will weigh up the option of lengthening the batting order, possibly including a seventh batter, but that carries risks, if one of the bowlers gets injured. “We’ve gone with a six-five (batter-bowler split) before. We still need to see the conditions at The Gabba,” Langeveldt said.
“We don’t have that luxury of a batter who can bowl us a few overs, whereas Australia have got (Cameron) Green and that makes a difference.”
A six-five split, besides putting pressure on SA’s top six, which hasn’t had much success of late, will also demand Marco Jansen showing more responsibility with the willow at No 7. The 22-year-old has three scores of 30 or more in 11 innings and has played crucial innings’ in the last year, most notably at Lord’s where he made his Test best of 48.
Langeveldt was pleased with the workout the bowlers got in their four-day match against a Cricket Australia XI that ended on Monday. “We got our workloads up, the guys spent time on the feet and cricket-wise, our bowlers (delivered) that fuller length which we want. If you bowl short, it looks good, but you wont get rewards,” Langeveldt said.
In addition to bowlers getting miles in their legs, many of the batters continued to show the good form that was on display in the Cricket SA 4-Day Series recently. Dean Elgar scored 109 and Kyle Verreynne 80, and in the second innings Rassie van der Dussen made 95 and Theunis de Bruyn 88.
Vice-captain Temba Bavuma got some much-needed time in the middle in the second innings, after not batting in the first because of an elbow injury. Bavuma faced 92 balls and scored 28.
*Meanwhile Josh Hazlewood was not selected for the first Test because of a side strain. Cummins is set for a return to the starting team after missing the Adelaide Test against the West Indies with a quad strain. Lance Morris, the Sheffield Shield's leading wicket-taker who is capable of hitting speeds up to 150km/h, remains in the 14-man squad.
Australia: Pat Cummins (capt), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Michael Neser, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner
South Africa: Dean Elgar (capt), Temba Bavuma, Gerald Coetzee, Theunis de Bruyn, Sarel Eree, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Lizaad Williams, Khaya Zondo