Australia carry momentum into Adelaide Test
South Africa's No. 1 Test ranking is on the line in the three-match series and it lived up to its billing as a heavyweight contest at the Gabba, where the tourists took the early initiative but Australia finished on a high.
A brilliant unbeaten 259 from skipper Michael Clarke combined with centuries from Ed Cowan and Mike Hussey defused the celebrated South African bowling attack and left the Proteas to bat out the final day for a draw.
"We think we came out of that Test on top and thought there were a couple of big blows we landed," Australia spinner Nathan Lyon said this week.
"We have to come out and start well on Thursday morning and take that momentum from the first Test into the second and third Tests and hopefully win this series and become the No. 1 [team] in the world."
Australia's main selection quandary is whether all-rounder Shane Watson will have recovered sufficiently from the calf strain which saw him miss the Brisbane Test to take his place in the top order.
Watson has already ruled himself out of bowling in the match and left-hander Rob Quiney looks more and more likely to retain his spot at No. 3 in the batting line-up in his place.
Spinner Nathan Lyon is certain to remain in the side at a ground where he was an assistant groundsman only two years ago, while left-armer Mitchell Starc is pushing Ben Hilfenhaus for his place in the likely three-pronged pace attack.
South Africa's bowlers have been left in no doubt that better is expected of them in Adelaide after they toiled on a wicket that offered them little in Brisbane.
Having left specialist spinner Imran Tahir out of the Gabba Test only to then lose all-rounder JP Duminy to a ruptured Achilles, South Africa are unlikely to leave their bowling unit similarly exposed in Adelaide.
Paceman Rory Kleinveldt, who ended up with figures of 0-97 on debut at the Gabba, looks set to make way for Tahir's return with Faf du Plessis coming in for the unfortunate Duminy, who will be sidelined for six months.
That will leave Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander – the top two in the ICC bowling rankings – to lead the pace attack with back-up from Morné Morkel and all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
There was nothing much wrong with South Africa's batting when they took early charge of the Brisbane Test with Kallis and Hashim Amla both grabbing centuries in the first innings.
"In Brisbane, we had them under pressure but just let them go. Hopefully this time we can really squeeze them and break the momentum," opener Alviro Petersen said.
"In the last year or two we have played good cricket, that is why we're the number one Test team in the world and that will count for a lot."
The Adelaide track is unlikely to offer them too much for the opening couple of days at least, and whichever captain wins the toss would be well-advised to bat first.
"It's almost like the sub-continent, it's very slow for the first three days then quickens up towards the back end," Australia and former South Africa coach Mickey Arthur said.
"It goes from being the best batting wicket in the world to being pretty difficult to bat on in days four and five. So, big first innings are the way to go there." – Reuters