Having been whitewashed by South Africa in South Africa last month, in ODIs, Australia will have revenge on their mind as they host the Proteas in a fresh series. The first Test begins at Perth, and the hosts will be keen to start well. Australia have been having a torrid time of late across formats. Before the South African embarrassment, they were thrashed 3-0 in Tests by Sri Lanka as well, playing at the latter's home ground. As such, Steven Smith will be under extreme pressure. The Aussie captain has failed to inspire his team as a leader. Even as a batsman, his form has dipped as the pressure has risen, so that would mean additional baggage on him.
The one good news for Australia amidst all the gloom is that they would welcome back Mitchell Starc in the groove. The left-arm pacer has been the team's biggest match-winner across formats over the last year or so, whenever he has been fit. Australia will be hoping for Starc to return to full fitness as soon as possible. Another pacer Josh Hazelwood also returns to the national squad. While he is not as big a match-winner as Starc, he has definitely proved to be a highly effective wicket-taker in the format. This was why he was given a deserved rest. Australia will hope it has done the trick.
Australia's batting was a massive letdown in Sri Lanka, against a not-so-experienced attack, if one leaves out Rangana Herath. But, the left-arm spinner was singlehandedly too good for the Aussies. The one positive Smith's men can take going into the Perth match is that they will be playing at home. They would thus be hoping that the batsmen can be back among the runs. A lot will depend on David Warner, who was in scintillating form in the one-dayers against South Africa even as his teammates struggled. The series will also give another opportunity to Shaun Marsh to revive his career. The Tests will also be significant for the future of Usman Khawaja and Adam Voges.
Like in the one-dayers at home, South Africa would be without their talisman leader AB de Villiers. While that did not affect the Proteas one bit in the shorter format, things might be different in the Tests. South Africa will again look up to their experienced players to perform. Faf du Plessis will again be in charge as the Tests get underway. Lot of runs will be expected from his willow. Hashim Amla is another man who should be among the runs if the Proteas want to do well. Rilee Rossouw and Quinton de Kock were excellent in one-dayers. They must be looking forward to performing well in Tests as well.
South Africa's bowling attack, yet again, will be led by Dale Steyn. The speedster has never been part of a World Cup-winning squad, so he would be raring to go and lead the team to great heights against the Aussies. In Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, they have another two match-winning pacers. The trio form one of the most dangerous pace attacks in the world. Unfortunately, the Proteas continue to struggle when it comes to spin. JP Duminy will have to chip in with some wickets. Australia have an advantage in this department as Nathan Lyon is a seasoned performer. It remains to be seen whether the lack of a good spinner hurts the Proteas.
--By A Cricket Analyst