While South Africa are no longer worried by Australia’s pace, they remain wary of an attack that will test their batsmen in home conditions, in what is expected to be a battle of the bowlers in the upcoming three-Test series.
“In terms of real, real pace, 150s-plus, guys like Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee [aren’t around], but there are still guys who hit great areas; quality bowlers,” Neil McKenzie, South Africa’s batting coach, said. “The aggression is still there. I don’t know if the 150 is still there – Starc can get it up – but they are still a quality bowling line-up.”
With Australia’s squad yet to be announced, and several seamers still in contention for a place, South Africa cannot be certain who they will face, but they are studying all possibilities. They may even have a glance at the Sheffield Shield on television, if for no other reason than novelty, because South Africa’s first-class cricket is not broadcast, and no matter what they see, McKenzie is confident it will not intimidate them.
He did not go as far as to say South Africa no longer see Australia as the final frontier, primarily because they have won their last two Test series there, but stressed that the batsmen have no need to be afraid, of either the bowlers or the conditions. “I don’t think they will be underrated, ever, especially Australia. We know there’s a rich history, lots of tradition, and a lot of pride in their performances,” he said. “The bowlers are still quality, can still get you out and can still win Test matches, you’ve still got to respect whoever comes out there. But, I don’t think it’s the fear factor. Most of the guys are worried about losing their wicket, not of the fear factor, and that’s how it probably should be.”
Add to that that the pitches – the WACA in particular, is no longer as much of the pacemen’s paradise it once was – and South Africa may even consider themselves on an even keel going into the series opener. “I don’t think it’s the WACA of old, of 15 years ago,” McKenzie said. “Most of the guys are brought up on quick decks back home, so I think the adjustment there is easier.”
South Africa’s preparation for that match starts on Thursday, when, after a week spent on the pink ball, they play a two-day practice match with the usual red cherry. Their opposition is not as strong as an A side, but McKenzie said they want to work on fine-tuning skills. “It’s about getting mental preparation, getting the technique right and getting guys to feel good about their games.”
Some of South Africa’s players, like Quinton de Kock, who scored a century despite taking ill during the first practice match, and JP Duminy, will already be in a good space, but there are others who will want to spend time in the middle before the first Test. Their openers, Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar, made 71 runs between them in four innings in the first warm-up game, and Faf du Plessis, who also batted twice, totalled 28. McKenzie is hopeful they can improve on that. “Ideally, you want everyone going into a Test match with a couple of runs under their bat,” he said. “We allow a lot of the guys individual preparation. A guy like Hashim, if he says he has had enough and he is in a good space, we will try and push him further down the order [in the warm-up games] or give him a rest so the others can get runs.”