With the World T20 little over a fortnight away, South Africa and Australia – two of the pre-tournament favourites – will look to put the finishing touches on their preparation for the showpiece event.
Can South Africa continue where they left off against England in February or will Australia, under the captaincy of Steve Smith, burst the Proteas’ bubble?
To Win Match
South Africa 8/10 | Draw 35/1 | Australia 1/1
The biggest news coming out of the South African camp in the lead-up to this match was the suspension of Aaron Phangiso, whose action was deemed to be illegal. As such, the off-spinner drops out of the squad for the first two T20 internationals against Australia with a second round of tests due to be carried out next week.
It’s not yet clear who will take his place in the squad, although I think it might well be Eddie Leie provided he’s fit. Leie has had an excellent Momentum One Day Cup season following on from his excellent displays in the Ram Slam T20. Whether or not Phangiso would even have started is unclear with Imran Tahir being the Proteas’ first-choice limited overs spinner.
That said, South Africa have plenty of depth in their batting, something that was evident against the English last month. David Wiese and Chris Morris are both more than capable with the bat lower down the order while providing zeal and control with the ball.
There hasn’t really been any news regarding the fitness of Dale Steyn, however, most pundits are fairly sure that he will make his return in this series. If he is fit, he will likely open the bowling alongside Kagiso Rabada, who has been nothing short of remarkable this summer.
The South African’s biggest strength, however, has to be their top order. Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers are probably the best top four in T20 cricket at the moment. They will no doubt be licking their lips at the prospect of facing up to an Australian bowling attack that has struggled to settle following a slew of injuries as well as the retirement of Mitchell Johnson.
If it were up to me, my team would look something like this: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, David Wiese, Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir. The only question mark is the inclusion of JP Duminy who hasn’t set the world alight of late. However, he is considered a T20 specialist and his ability with the ball – especially ahead of a showpiece tournament on the Sub-Continent – could well earn him a place in the side.
Australia come into this series under a bit of a cloud themselves. Their bowling attack has undergone wholesale changes of late while Steve Smith takes over the captaincy from Aaron Finch moving forward. I suspect the only reason Finch was relieved of his duties is due to the resurgence of Shane Watson and the meteoric rise of Usman Khawaja – the two will no doubt be fixtures at the top of the Australian batting order moving into the World T20, and dropping your captain is bound to ruffle a few feathers.
Although Finch will no doubt be a big miss if he isn’t selected, I feel that Mitchell Starc’s on-going ankle problems have thrown the entire Australian bowling attack out of whack. They now lack that out and out pace that they had in abundance up until late last year. His absence left the door ajar for Shaun Tait who was selected to play against India earlier this year, however, his complete and utter lack of control against Virat Kohli and co saw his stock fall dramatically following a solid showing in the KFC Big Bash.
Like South Africa, Australia’s biggest strength lies in their top four. David Warner, Watson, Khawaja and Smith are going to have to be at their brilliant best if the Australians are going to challenge for the World T20 title. A lot of pressure has been put on Khawaja to deliver following his incredible Australian summer which saw him light the KFC Big Bash, the West Indies’ inbound tour and the Aussies’ tour of New Zealand.
Verdict: South Africa 8/10
I just think that the Proteas have a more settled squad at the minute. They have greater depth in their bowling and their top order looks better suited to the T20 game. I’m pretty confident they will open the series with a win over the Australians. Get on at 8/10.