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24 May 2024

Battle begins afresh

Proteas JP Duminy keeps his place. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Ahmad Lala

Round two in the battle to be the top-ranked Test team in the world begins on Thursday when South Africa play host to Australia in Johannesburg.

The visitors barely held on to their No1 status last month when they secured a consolation win – after the Proteas had won the first two Tests – in a hard-fought three-match series Down Under.
It was Australia's first home loss since 1992 – a year that subsequently coincides with South Africa's re-admission into the international game after years of sports isolation brought on by their then-government's apartheid policy.

Since returning to the Test arena, the Proteas have yet to defeat Australia in South Africa, but on recent form they will start this week as the clear favourites, according to former Australia wicket-keeper Rod Marsh, now the Director of Coaching at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai Sports City.

"Australia are not the team they used to be," said the 61-year old, who claimed 355 dismissals in 96 Tests behind the stumps. "It's harsh, but they're just a bunch of untried cricketers really."

Especially so when compared to the settled South Africa line-up, who have remained undefeated for more than two years. The toughest decision the hosts had to make was in choosing between vice-captain Ashwell Prince, a man who had scored 165 in his last innings, and JP Duminy, who had plundered 246 runs at an average of 61.50 in his debut Test series Down Under.

In the end, the Proteas have opted to retain Duminy, who earlier this month became the third highest paid player at the 2009 IPL auctions after being bought for $900,000 (Dh3.3m).

Captain Graeme Smith will also feature, after missing the ODI Series in Australia due to elbow and finger injuries.

It is South Africa's fast bowling contingent of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel who give them an edge on the visitors – and have helped them overcome their one-time reputation of being a team that lost when in winning situations.

"They didn't choke too badly in Australia," said Marsh. "Once you actually learn to win tough games, the monkey comes off your back. Maybe they have done that now," Australia, who have already lost the services of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in recent times to retirement, are further crippled by injuries to Brett Lee and Stuart Clarke – two bowlers experienced in South African conditions.

In the batting department they remain strong though, with the only concern being a niggle to vice-captain Michael Clarke's back.

Should Australia lose this away series, they will relinquish the No1 Test ranking they've held for the past six years.