When the schedule for the Australia-South Africa Tests was announced, the Adelaide Test was expected to be a focus of attention, as it was decided to play the match as a day-night one. But, on the eve of the game, everything bar the Test is in focus. For South Africa, their stand-in skipper in the absence of AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, is at the centre of a controversy, having been charged with tampering with the ball. The good part for the visitors is that du Plessis can take part in the match. Australia, on the other hand, will be desperate to avoid a whitewash at home after already been embarrassed 3-0 in Sri Lanka.
In their endeavour to try and avoid another defeat, Australia have gone to the extent of making wholesale changes to the playing eleven. Australia will have as many as three debutants at Adelaide, which shows how desperate they are. Opener Matt Renshaw, middle-order batsmen Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson are coming in for Joe Burns, the concussed Adam Voges and Callum Ferguson. Burns and Ferguson must consider themselves unlucky that they have been shown the door after only a couple of failures. But, then one must remember that this is not the team of the late 90s or the early 2000s, where a few failures could be covered up.
What remains to be seen is the kind of impact the newcomers can actually make. If they can do well, it will be a blessing in disguise for sure. But, it is up to the experienced batsmen to lift themselves out of a batting slumber. The trio of David Warner, Usman Khawaja and skipper Steven Smith himself will have a big role to play in that aspect. Smith will be under pressure to deliver as leader as well. The Aussies have made a change in the wicket-keeping department too, replacing the quiet Peter Nevill with the chirpy Matthew Wade. In the bowling, a lot will again depend on Mitchell Starc, but he needs support from Josh Hazelwood and Jackson Bird. Nathan Lyon must also raise his game.
South Africa will not be under pressure, but they must make sure they don't take the foot off the pedal. After all, they have a rare opportunity of whitewashing the hosts in their own backyard. South Africa have been top-class with the bat against an insipid Aussie bowling outfit. Wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock has led the way with runs everytime he has been out in the middle. The Aussies just haven't found a way to get him out cheaply. It remains to be seen how du Plessis responds to the challenge of being found guilty of ball-tampering. Overall, the Proteas would be extremely pleased with their batting effort, with everyone from Dean Elgar to JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma among the runs.
Also, Dale Steyn might have been ruled out of the series, but his absence due to injury has clearly proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Kyle Abbott came in and delivered a fantastic match-winning effort at Hobart. Kagiso Rabada too has not been far behind, constantly getting the breakthroughs. To add to Aussie batsmen's woes, Vernon Philander too has been on song, thus providing no respite whatsoever for the hosts. Keshav Maharaj has done reasonably well, but there are thoughts floating around that left-arm spinner Tabraiz Shamsi could be a better option with pink ball under lights. He could be the only perceptible change in the playing line-up.
--By A Cricket Analyst