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South Africa vs Australia: 2nd Test Preview

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An Australian cricket team, led by the fiercely quick Mitchell Johnson and firing on all cylinders, will go into the second Test match of the 3 Test series against South Africa in Port Elizabeth as firm favourites. The Test Match starts on Thursday, the 20th of February, and it will be a big test of character and resolve for the World No.1 South Africa, who were humbled by the visitors Australia by a massive 282 runs in the first Test match at Centurion.

Just as it was in the first Test match of the series, a lot of the talking points around this Test match too will revolve around the rapid Mitchell Johnson, who has been scaring the living daylights out of batsmen around the world over the last 4-5 months. There is just the one simple but big question that will be asked of the South Africans, which will be their ability to handle the hostile bowling of Johnson, who could single handedly take the series away from them in a couple of sessions in Port Elizabeth.

Here is how the teams are likely to line up for the 2nd Test match.

South Africa:

South Africa’s pride will be hurt as they go into the second Test after having lost by the 2nd highest margin ever against Australia in the first match and it will be interesting to see how they respond in Port Elizabeth. The biggest question mark in the South African camp will be the balance of the side following the recent retirement of marquee all-rounder Jacques Kallis from Test cricket. In Kallis, South African had a specialist batsman, who could also be a specialist bowler if conditions suited him well. His absence was more than palpable in the first Test match and although his replacement Ryan McClaren bowled his heart out in the first game, his batting at No.7 does not seem to suffice at this level.

South Africa will have to decide whether they will persist with McClaren for this Test as he will give them the 4th seamer cushion that their front 3 pacers in Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander always like to have. The other option available for skipper Graeme Smith will be the inclusion of an extra batsman in Dean Elgar in place of McClaren for this Test match but the South African pace trio do not like to have too much of a bowling load on them and are not used to bowling long spells.

Besides that conundrum, there is no room for changes in the South African line up as they do not have any more batsmen to come into the Squad. Senior batsman in Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla will be needed to provide more of a supporting hand to in the in-form AB de Villiers than they did in the first test. As mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see how each of the South African top 6 will respond individually to the scary threat of Mitchell Johnson aiming for their throats.

Australia:

Amidst all the Mitchell Johnson drama, a much forgotten element of their win in Centurion is their swashbuckling batting display against a quality South African attack, which helped the Aussies take the game away from the hosts pretty quickly.

Australia’s attacking brand of batting exemplified by nearly everyone of their top 6 batsmen, caught South Africa off guard in the first Test. While there would normally be no room for change after such a dominating win, the return to fitness of all-rounder Shane Watson will present a very big selection headache for the on tour selection committee.

Watson’s replacement at No.3 for the first Test, Alex Doolan, did no harm to his credentials by making very useful runs in both innings of the Test match, more so his 89 runs in the second dig, which allowed Australia to run away with the game. Watson will give the likes of Mitchell Johnson and co. a good rest between spells by keeping one end tight when the going gets tough, something that the Aussie selectors cannot ignore. So the all-rounder Watson might just make the cut ahead of Doolan while the rest of the XI is likely to remain the same in the Test match.

Australia’s management will be hoping for an encore from their bowling setup in the second Test. The likes of Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris will once again do the complimentary job to the obvious leader of the attack in Mitchell Johnson. Johnson’s frightening pace and accuracy is also likely to present Australia’s promising young off-spinner Nathan Lyon some wicket taking opportunities as the South African’s might be left with no choice but to go after him in the match.

Likely XIs:

South Africa: A Peterson, G Smith, H Amla, F du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, R McClaren/D Elgar, R Peterson, D Steyn, V Philander, M Morkel

Australia: D Warner, C Rogers, S Watson/A Doolan, S Marsh, M Clarke, S Smith, B Haddin, M Johnson, R Harris, P Siddle, N Lyon

Key Players to watch:

Mitchell Johnson: There are no prizes for guessing who will be in the spotlight in the game once again. Mitchell Johnson’s delivering at around a 150kmph coupled with his deadly accuracy usually directed at the bodies of batsmen, makes him undoubtedly the most dangerous quick bowler in the world.

H Amla: Usually South Africa’s most reliable batsman during a crisis, Hashim Amla has not been in the best of form this season but what better time than the second Test match for him to rise to South Africa’s aid.

Pitch and conditions:

The wicket at Port Elizabeth is usually a hard and true bounce one, which helps stroke play but there could be a bit of moisture in the pitch on the first day if grass is left on the surface.

Match prediction: high scoring draw.