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Five-question haul: Australia’s moment of truth

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Chris Barrett, Chloe Saltau and Phil Lutton

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Summer of cricket begins

Our cricket experts preview the first Test between Australia and South Africa at the Gabba.

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1. How will Australia's ambitious pack of fast bowlers shape up against the world's best?

CHRIS BARRETT: Don't underestimate local knowledge. James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and company will enjoy Brisbane and Perth just as much as Dale Steyn and his highly-rated offsiders. Pattinson, after a great domestic lead-up, in particular looks to have a new strut about him and Siddle, with his girlfriend's vegan diet on board, is fitter than ever. If they fire as he did last summer it will go a long way to show they are the equal of the Proteas.

CHLOE SALTAU: They might not boast South Africa's strength and stability yet, but there is spunk and depth there. Pattinson, especially, hates to be overshadowed and he'll be itching to get at the Proteas' top order. I have concerns about the preparation of Ben Hilfenhaus, left, and Mitchell Starc, who have been starved of first-class games. I'm backing Australia's quicks to give South Africa a fright at the Gabba; the trick will be to stay on top as the series evolves.

James Pattinson will be itching to face the South African top order and will benefit from the pace-friendly Gabba pitch. Click for more photos

Five-question haul: Australia's moment of truth

With the opening Test of the summer starting tomorrow, Fairfax cricket writers Chris Barrett, Chloe Saltau and Phil Lutton discuss what looms as an intrguing match against South Africa. Photo: Getty Images

PHIL LUTTON: It's going to fare very well, particularly in Brisbane where they are attuned to the conditions and could get the early jump on the Proteas' bats. Siddle is fit, firing and looks a genuine leader of the group. And for all of the woe about the loss of Pat Cummins, Pattinson looks like the real star of the next generation. He loves the Gabba and I expect him to flourish as the series continues. Hilfenhaus and Starc bring their own flavour.

2. South Africa bat extremely deep and are star-studded throughout. Do the hosts, with newish openers, a debutant No.3 and a pair of 37-year-olds in the middle order, have the runs in them?

CB: The instinctive answer is they don't. For that to be disproved the openers Ed Cowan and David Warner need to stick around longer and Michael Hussey needs to overturn an ordinary record against the Proteas. Ricky Ponting's impressive start to the Sheffield Shield season gives rise to the thought he can keep the flame flickering but he was dominated by Steyn and Vernon Philander in South Africa 12 months ago.

CS: Australia needs to get over its reliance on Ponting, right, and Hussey, which means the unproven top order needs to stand up. That will be especially true if Hussey's modest record against South Africa continues; he's passed 50 once in his past eight innings against the Proteas, and Steyn and Morne Morkel (along with India's Zaheer Khan) are the most successful bowlers against him in world cricket. This is the biggest test of Cowan's career and he knows it.

PL: I don't doubt Australia is good enough to bowl the Proteas out but whether we can put the heat on with the bat is no certainty. I'm less worried about Ponting, who is in great form, and Hussey than those preceding them. This is go-time for Cowan, who must get a big score early in the series, and Warner needs to back up his lively chat with some runs. Rob Quiney is a veteran who shouldn't be intimidated but it shouldn't be left to Ponting, Hussey and Matthew Wade to set or chase totals.

3. Is Michael Clarke the match of South African captain Graeme Smith? Can he outsmart him?

CB: No one can knock Clarke for the way he has steered Australia since last year; despite a couple of hiccups he hasn't lost a Test series. Smith, however, is the most seasoned leader of men in world cricket. He combines brains and brawn and through his example South Africa have become the most resolute force in the game. They will be anything but the shambles that MS Dhoni's tourists were last summer. For Clarke it is the ultimate test.

CS: Smith, above, turned public opinion with strong leadership and brave batting on his most recent visit four summers ago, and Australians are finally warming to their own leader, who is an imaginative captain and smart tactician. It will be interesting to see how Clarke manages his bowlers without Shane Watson to fall back on, but he's done that before, too. I'm tipping Clarke to outshine Smith with the bat but he'll be judged on the team's results.

PL: South Africa will follow Smith anywhere. He's a bullish, aggressive skipper who would play with one leg if it meant getting a win. Clarke is a wonderful batsman and emerging leader but doesn't yet command the same sort of respect as his opposite number. Strategically, Clarke has impressed and he'll need to make clever bowling changes and field placements to undo the powerful bats of the Proteas. Crucially for Australia, Clarke has better personal grooming.

4. Four years ago the Proteas won 2-1, inflicting Australia's first home series loss in 16 years. How will they cope with being the hunted this time?

CB: They don't appear to be bothered about being frontrunners and their record on the road suggests it is unlikely there will be any homesickness either. Australia however, will revel in being the underdog and the prospect of further restoring their formerly impregnable patch, damaged by defeats to South Africa four years ago and then England but repaired in part by their flogging of India.

CS: The common ingredient here is Mickey Arthur, who has switched camps since coaching South Africa to their momentous win. He has intimate knowledge of the South Africans, but most importantly understands the psychology of being the hunter. History suggests the Proteas might struggle to cling to No.1, having handed back the mantle after four months in 2009. I wonder if they can land the killer blows.

PL: The Australians need to get out of the gates in Brisbane and make the tourists chase in the second and third Tests. Four years ago, Australia was transitioning bowling attacks and certainly in between spinners, with Jason Krejza used in the first two Tests and Nathan Hauritz the third. The hosts look more settled this time around but conversely, the South Africans are a harder, tougher unit.

5. How much of an impact will Nathan Lyon have?

CB: The spinner has been pilloried for poor form but he will benefit from Clarke's captaincy and enjoy the bounce in Brisbane, where he shone last year, admittedly against New Zealand. South Africa will undoubtedly go after Lyon but he is the support act in this Australian attack and if he can coax the occasional mistake out of the tourists he will have done his job.

CS: I can't see Lyon bowling Australia to victory but he's not really expected to. With Brisbane and Perth on the schedule, nor will Imran Tahir be a big factor for South Africa, although both should have some sort of impact in Adelaide. Lyon has had an ordinary start to the domestic season but Clarke is a sympathetic captain who believes in him.

PL: For all of the encouragement being given to Lyon by his coach and captain - and Lyon's assurance he's feeling great - the Shield figures point to a bowler down on form. South Africa are sure to have noticed how easily he was handled by Queensland in a four-day game at the Gabba and I expect them to go after him early. Lyon can play a holding role and pick up the odd wicket but I doubt if he is going to be a major factor.

14 comments so far

  • This is a pretty strange article, which could have been much shorter and still made it's point.

    Two ways for Australia to beat South Africa.

    1. Score more runs than them
    2. Take 20 wickets.

    'Nuff said.

    Commenter
    The Redman
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 08, 2012, 9:22AM
    • Wow Redman, that's some good in depth analysis you provided.

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 10:26AM
    • I have to respond to the Clarke article here because it has been closed for comment. Clarke most enduring feature would have to be his ability to catch a tennis ball in his jocks. Clearly that is enough for the boffins at CA to make him captain because his leadership under fire would certainly not be one of them (for heavens sake sending a nightwatchmen onto the MCG 40 minutes before close of play!)

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 3:41PM
  • Be Australian, sledge and carry on like the foul mouthed cricket playing bogans that you are.

    Commenter
    Diego Garcia
    Location
    Not here.
    Date and time
    November 08, 2012, 10:30AM
    • oh dear. Cry me a river princess.

      Commenter
      Ice
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 11:01AM
    • Now, now diego garcia you are slipping into the territory of vast generalisations. Just thought I should point that out for you.

      Commenter
      Pat
      Location
      not there
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 11:41AM
  • "Crucially for Australia, Clarke has better personal grooming" and I thought it was about batting bowling and Fielding! - Watching the series against England earlier in the year, the key is Hashim Amla. If Australia can dominate him, then they have a good chance in the series, if he has anything like the series he had in England he can make enough runs on his own.

    Commenter
    terry
    Location
    Caves Beach
    Date and time
    November 08, 2012, 11:23AM
    • Deano has his measure

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 3:43PM
  • The only thing that can be said for Clarke's captaincy is that it's better than Ponting's. It is clear, given that he is still commonly referred to as Pup, that young Michael does not enjoy the respect that a captain ought to.

    Commenter
    John
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    November 08, 2012, 12:27PM
    • how do you get respect if you go on TV catching tennis balls in your jocks - blimey charlie. this bloke has the resolve of a Missile Magnusson tour of duty - looks pretty good, short on results

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 3:50PM

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