The Protea’s go into the final Test in a couple of days knowing one thing – they have to win to get a draw out of the series, something that should have been the least of their goals at the beginning of the tour. To lose both the ODI and Test Series would make this tour more than a failure for a team that has aspirations to be the worlds best team.
Lets not take for granted that this England team, with spirit rather than than tactically well lead, is a good team. A misfiring KP is only a match winning innings away at all times, Collingwood is lion in the middle order, Bell and Prior are inconsistent match winners with the bat, Cooke, Strauss and Trott are all solid, and Broad, Anderson and Onions dependable, and Swan the joker in the pack. This England side is the strongest they’ve put together in almost twenty years, and it’s missing Flintoff.
Yet this South African squad, a team that beat Australia in Australia, something that hasn’t happened in a generation, they beat England in England, and the team were seen as the best and most promising since readmission. Yet this season has been far from positive. The team, who rose to number one with that win in Australia, were looking to dominate as Australia had done for years, yet they went on to lose the return series win Australia, then didn’t play a Test series until this one, where they find themselves 1-0 down with one to play. A run that has seen them lose the number one spot, held by India now, and not look like a team challenging for the position.
The way sport goes, and in particular the intricacies of Test cricket, the Protea’s have seen themselves out play England in 2 of the 3 Tests, with England needing to hang on with 9 down in the 1st and 3rd Tests, yet find themselves 1-0 down with no chance at a Series win.
The Protea’s attack has seen changes in each of the 3 Tests thus far and once again will be changed for the final Test. De Wet will not play, having picked up a back injury in his 5th over of the first innings in the last Test, will not play. What’s worrying for the fast bowler, who made his debut in the 1st Test, is that he did retire a few years ago with a back problem. If this is the same problem then sadly his Test career could be two Tests long. Wayne Parnell, who has played limited over cricket for the Protea’s over the last year, is in line to make his Test debut. This would give the attack a left arm option and could be just the variety that the attack needs. With Steyn and Morkel, who’s bowling this series has been the best of his career, the added responsibilty of being a new ball bowler, replacing Ntini, has agreed with Morne and his partnership with Steyn shows much promise. With Parnell as first change and Kallis, Harris and Duminy, the attack looks positive. Parnell offers more with the bat and will lengthen the bottom order.
Another option that could be taken is to leave out Harris and go with an all pace attack by giving Ryan McLaren a Test debut. This option would give support to Steyn, Morkel, Parnell and Kallis, on a pitch that is expected to be green, and would mean South Africa bat all the way down. It would also mean that Duminy, who out bowled Harris on the final afternoon of the last Test, would be given more overs to bowl, something that he can expect in India next month.
A final note on selection. The calling up, before being withdrawn a day later, of Imran Tahir, shows the direction the selectors are looking at. Harris has been effective in his Test career, to the surprise of many opponents, and was ranked 9th on the bowling list at the start of the series. Tahir’s call up points to the selectors adding options to the squad by including an attackig spin bowling option. Lets hope the paperwork can be sorted before the India series next month.
The Joburg weather has been wet this last while and lets hope that doesn’t spoil South Africa’s chance at a series leveling win. Whatever happens it’s going to be hard work. Although they’ve come close twice this series the Protea’s haven’t been able to take 20 wickets in a Test this series. They may have options a plenty in the squad but options don’t take wickets. The Protea’s can begin their climb back to the top here on Thursday, and can put a poor year behind them, by taking 20 wickets this week. It’ll be hard work, but well worth it.
pic from cricinfo.com