With the T20 curtain-raisers now a thing of the past, both nations welcome the return of key first-team players for a ferocious ODI series that will go a long way in refining relative World Cup ambitions. Despite suffering a comprehensive loss in the first T20, Australia’s band of twenty-over crusaders managed to turn the tables on South Africa’s fringe group and snatch the series 2-1. The Proteas will be disappointed with a soft underbelly exposed in the second and third matches, but the goal of blooding players considered future investments was met. The potential problem is that those players seem to possess the same frailties that have plagued South African limited overs cricket for quite some time.
South Africa 13/10
The home side have named a pace-heavy squad intent on exploiting local conditions, particularly in Perth. Spinners Nathan Lyon and Xavier Doherty have been left out, making room for the in-form Josh Hazlewood (the second-highest wicket taker in Australia’s domestic one-day tournament) and Nathan Coulter-Nile. They will form the pace attack along with Mitchell Johnson, Kane Richardson and Mitchell Marsh, with James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc rested with an eye on Australia’s upcoming Test summer. Brad Haddin has also been rested, presenting another opportunity for the hot-headed Matthew Wade to stake his claim as Haddin’s eventual heir to the gloves. As for turn, Australia will rely on relative part-timers Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, depending on whether they can find a place in Australia talent-rich middle-order. While Finch and Warner are the opening candidates, the likes of Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Mitchell Marsh, George Bailey and the aforementioned Smith and Maxwell are left to choose from in batting positions. Indeed, Cameron White showed a cool head in Australia’s third T20 chase and will be pushing for inclusion. It’s a potentially powerful line-up and the Aussies will confident in their selectors picking the correct combination on match-day. In fact, there is probably room for error.
While the Proteas’ experimental T20 unit answered some questions regarding the ability of the fringe players under pressure, losses aside, the series came with a cost. JP Duminy has been ruled out of the ODI series with a knee injury that has plagued him since the Zimbabwe Triangular Series and leaves the Proteas in a bit of a pickle. Duminy’s overs with the ball are key to South Africa’s plans and the loss of him weakens the balance in the squad significantly. Behardien comes in to replace him, to the chagrin of the South African public. Marchant de Lange has also been added to the squad to bolster the pace resources. The selectors, although correct in the their decision to experiment with South Africa’s fringe squad in the T20s, will be annoyed that certain players did not grasp the opportunity presented them. And speaking of opportunities, the upcoming ODI series may prove to be ‘last-chance saloon’ for a certain David Miller. He has struggled to replicate his performances for the Dolphins and Kings XI at international level and is under pressure. It will be between him, Behardien and Rilee Rossouw for Duminy’s middle-order spot and if given the chance, Miller could thrive. It seems that he needs more time at the crease before launching into his trademark destructive behaviour and could benefit from the platform provided by Duminy’s absence.
The WACA is renowned as a fast, bouncy wicket and it is expected that both sides will stock their pace attacks accordingly. Australia lost their last ODI played at the ground in January this year against a hapless England, but won all three fixtures at the ground preceding it. South Africa haven’t played an ODI at the WACA since 2009, but won that match rather comfortably with scores from Amla and de Villiers. The weather forecast is sunny with no chance of rain.
VERDICT: Australia 13/20
I expect the loss of Duminy to have a real effect on the Proteas’ performance. A formidable Australian middle-order will have only Steyn’s pace as a real concern, while Mitchell Johnson could be quite lethal in Perth. Both sides will have men returning but I expect Australia to be a real handful at this ground. Get on the favourites.