Proteas ‘excited’ about last battle with Aussies

The first of five MTN one-day internationals (ODIs) between South Africa and Australia is to be played in Durban on Friday, signalling that the long summer of battles between the two teams is drawing to an end.

Since the middle of December, Australia and South Africa have played two Test series, with each winning the series away from home, two Twenty20 series, with each winning the series in their own backyard, and an ODI series in Australia, which South Africa won four-one.

But far from being jaded after nearly four months of battles against one of their main rivals, coach Mickey Arthur says the Proteas are excited about the prospect of the last battle.

”We’ve prioritised what we want to get out of the series and there’s a nice air around the squad,” he said on Wednesday. ”The guys are very fresh and looking forward to it.”

Arthur said that in contrast to the situation at the end of the tour of England last year, when the Proteas were beaten four-nil in the ODI series, the development of the team was progressing well.

”We’re getting a nice balance now,” he said. ”I’m very happy with the mix we have now. Within our squad, we have two recognised spinners, and we have JP Duminy, who can bowl for us as well, so we’re starting to get quite a nice mix in terms of variation in our attack.

”And the return of Makhaya [Ntini] and Morne [Morkel] in our attack is really good because they give us variation of a different kind. So I’m quite excited about the personnel of the squad. There’s a good blend of youth and experience as well, which is always good.

”We’re ahead of where we thought we would be,” he said. ”Over the last Australian series and the two Pro20s, we’ve seen the best of what is available. I think we’ve identified our squad, we’ve identified our route, and we’ve identified the brand of [one-day] cricket we want to play. Now it’s just a matter of putting the performances together.”

Arthur said not too much should be read into South Africa’s victories in the two Standard Bank Pro20 matches at the weekend.

”It’s always good to be in a dressing room that’s winning — it’s a good place to be — but we’re not looking too much to that,” he said.

”Friday is where we want to put our marker in the sand and that’s why we’ve been building up hard this week.

”Friday, for us, is huge. We want to go one-nil up, and hopefully take momentum from that. So, yes, nice to win the Pro20s, but it’s a different beast.”

Captain Graeme Smith will return to the South African team after missing the third Test and the two Pro20s because of injury. Arthur said Jacques Kallis, who suffered a groin strain in the third Test, was recovering well, but would probably not play on Friday.

Australia are also looking to get off to a winning start. Star all-rounder Mitchell Johnson — who has twice broken Smith’s little finger, first on the left hand and then on the right — said he was looking forward to renewing his contest with Smith.

”I’m look forward to the challenge again. It’s always good to get the opportunity to bowl with the new ball against an opening batsman like Smith,” he said.

”He’s such a great player. He’s a strong leader and his team look up to him. They will enjoy having him back in the squad and I’m looking forward to trying to get his wicket.” He said spirits were high in the Australian squad.

”We’ve had a great squad and now we’ve had a few guys who’ve come in for the limited overs matches. There a great spirit and we had a lot of energy at training this morning. Hopefully we can bring that into the game.”

Kingsmead is sold out for Friday’s match, which starts at 2.30pm. The gates open at 12. — Sapa

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