The dust has barely settled following the action-packed first Test at the Wanderers, and already a thriller of a Test match is expected when the Proteas and Australia lock horns in the second Test, starting on Friday in Durban.
Relishing their status as underdogs for the first time in about a decade, Ricky Ponting’s men are quietly confident going into the match, eager to build on their excellent start to the series, in which they beat South Africa by 162 runs.
But while the Aussies are under no illusions of an impending backlash from the Proteas, the weather might just have the final say in the game’s proceedings.
Rain is expected on all five days of the match, putting a potential dampener on Graeme Smith’s intention to square the series before the final Test begins in Cape Town.
If the weather holds out though, the Durban Test could be a humdinger.
Having displayed clear signs of finally gaining momentum in the final two days of the first Test, the Proteas are desperate to regain their poise and might over an Australian team that simply refuses to relinquish their tag as the number one cricketing team in the world.
With overcast and humid conditions expected for most of the five days, the toss is expected be important, but not critical. How South Africa’s bowlers make use of the conditions will once again direct their fortunes.
On the batting front, Graeme Smith, Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla seeing off the new ball will be crucial for South Africa’s strong but slightly tentative middle order to fire confidently. Smith is indubitably the biggest prize, but the Aussies would be naÃ¯ve to discount Amla, who will be playing on his home turf and is due for a big score after a spate of fifties in his last half-dozen Tests.
All eyes will be on how the Proteas approach the emerging batting talents of Phil Hughes and Marcus North, fresh from their exploits in the first Test. South Africa coach Mickey Arthur spoke this week of new plans for the pair, and with Ricky Ponting in superb form, a potentially fascinating battle between bat and ball should ensue.
Both sides aren’t likely to make any changes, though Aussie bowlers Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus are doubtful starters. Hilfenhaus is suffering a lower back strain and Siddle is nursing an injured foot following their heavy workload in the first Test. In the interim, Western Australian quickie Steven MacGoffin was flown in as a possible replacement for Siddle.
Meanwhile, Albie Morkel joins the South African squad, following an injury to Lonwabo Tsotsobe. With the wicket set to be the customarily hard and green Kingsmead top, the Proteas are toying with the idea of an all-seam attack, which would mean the inclusion of Morkel at the expense of spinner Paul Harris. Coach Mickey Arthur indicated that this decision would be only made on Friday morning, depending on the state of the wicket.
Durban has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the Proteas. Since 2000, South Africa have won five, drawn two and lost only one out of eight Test at the venue. In fact, the last time South Africa lost at Kingsmead was against Australia in 2006.
The Test is set up to be classic affair. Now just hope it doesn’t rain.