“When South Africa toured Down Under in 2016, Australia had no answers to their bowling attack in Hobart. On a pitch that had help for the seamers, Australian batting floundered like nine pins. South Africa won the game by an innings and 80 runs”.
After a disheartening campaign at Durban, where they lost the encounter by 118 runs, South Africa have their hopes pinned at Port Elizabeth. After winning the series opener, Australia have gained immense confidence and momentum, they will be the team to beat in the four-match series. They exposed South Africa’s weaknesses brutally on the slow Durban track. Spinners were getting immense help from Day 1 onwards, which was something unheard of in Tests in South Africa.
With home advantage becoming a huge factor in Test cricket played in the recent times, South Africa surprisingly didn’t play to their own advantage. South Africa is widely reckoned for pace, bounce and movement off the seam, which was missing in Durban. The home side have been on a winning spree in red ball cricket. India dominated the home Test season but lost the Test series against South Africa 2-1. Australia regained the Ashes with an emphatic 4-0 victory Down Under.
Australia play pace well, which perhaps compelled South Africa to dish out a slower track in Durban as they didn’t want to play into their hands. But one shouldn’t forget, Australia did well in India, which is an evidence to their effectiveness on slower tracks. As many anticipated, the visiting side did well to romp home with a much-needed victory in the opening game. Starc got the ball to reverse and made deep inroads in South Africa’s batting in both the innings.
The onus of making a comeback is now on South Africa, but the question is – what kind of pitches will they prepare for the rest of the series? Will they continue with slow pitches? Or opt for a quick one? In my opinion, South Africa should play to their strength and dish out a greener top, that will seam for the next game, to say the least.
Australia have been vulnerable on greener tops that offer seam movement in the recent times. Their Test outings against England at Edgbaston and Nottingham in 2015 and South Africa at Hobart in 2016 might corroborate the above belief. These were the surfaces, which had a lot of seam movement to offer to the bowlers. Let’s introspect one game at a time.
At Edgbaston, Australia lost the encounter by eight wickets. James Anderson and Steven Finn wreaked havoc with the ball as Australian batting crumbled on a sporting surface. English batsmen, on the other hand, did a fantastic job and saw the side home. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood had four and three wickets from the Test respectively but failed to inflict the kind of damage that English seamers had.
Coming to Nottingham, England only added more agony on hapless Australians. They won this encounter by an innings and 78 runs as Australia were bowled out for 60 and 253 in two innings. In the absence of Anderson, Stuart Broad stood up and accounted for eight Australian scalps in the first innings while Ben Stokes did most of the damage in the second. Although Starc had six wickets in his kitty, but English batsmen got the required runs with ease.
When South Africa toured Down Under in 2016, Australia had no answers to their bowling attack in Hobart. On a pitch that had help for the seamers, Australian batting floundered like nine pins. South Africa won the game by an innings and 80 runs. Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott ran through Australia’s batting in the first innings and were bowled out for 85 while South Africa were undone for 326 in the first innings. Once again Abbott spilt fire with the ball, but this time he had Kagiso Rabada for the company in second innings. Josh Hazlewood did well in picking six wickets while Starc had three.
These three games are a testament to Australia’s weaknesses when the ball is seaming. And green tops will provide seam movement. South Africa would stand a better chance of winning, if they produce a green top, at least in the next encounter. It’s a gamble, but worth taking. They are known for quick wickets, their players are used to play on seaming surfaces, so why not play to their strength instead of playing to opponents’ weakness?
Batting would be difficult on such surface, but a bowler of Philander’s calibre would make the ball talk on seaming wickets. Even Rabada for that matter, these two bowlers will mean business on a seaming wicket like they successfully did against India in Cape Town earlier this year. Moreover, Philander will be the biggest threat to Australia on seaming wickets.
For Australia, Josh Hazlewood could be their biggest weapon on such surface while Starc and Pat Cummins may not pose a massive threat. The lanky left-arm pacer may get some swing in the air, but South Africa would certainly stand a better chance. Their batting would do well as they are used to these conditions. It will be interesting to see what kind of a surface Port Elizabeth produces, but South Africa’s biggest advantage would be on a green top.