PORT ELIZABETH: A pitch with even bounce is expected for the second Test between South Africa and Australia at Port Elizabeth on Thursday (tomorrow), which may help South Africa’s batsmen combat the threat of Mitchell Johnson. Left-arm fast bowler Johnson was the destroyer in the first Test in Centurion, with match figures of 12 for 127 as Australia romped to a 281-run win. Uneven bounce compounded the problems caused by Johnson’s pace and hostility on a Centurion pitch which Australian captain Michael Clarke described as ‘nasty’.
Although Johnson will remain the biggest danger to South Africa’s hopes of getting back into the three-match series, batsmen should be able to trust the bounce in Port Elizabeth, according to Dave Emslie, chief executive of the local Warriors franchise. “The ground staff have been working on the Test pitch for months and I expect it will be a good one for Test cricket,” said Emslie. Although Port Elizabeth has a reputation for producing low and slow surfaces, Emslie said that was a ‘myth’ that had been disproved by results in first-class cricket in recent years. “If you look at matches that have been played here in the past three or four seasons, you will see that myth has been buried years ago. “What I do expect, though, is a pitch with some pace and bounce, which may help the seamers a little early on.”
While Australia seem certain to go in with an unchanged team, especially since it is unlikely that all-rounder Watson is unlikely to be fully fit to bowl as he recovers from a calf strain, South Africa have a dilemma regarding the number seven batting position. All-rounder Ryan McLaren, who batted at seven in the first Test, has been ruled out with mild concussion after being struck on the head by a Johnson bouncer in Centurion. Selection convener Andrew Hudson said on Monday that South Africa might opt for a specialist batsman to strengthen the batting, which would mean a recall for the left-handed Dean Elgar.
The other option is to include hometown all-rounder, left-arm pace bowler Wayne Parnell, who would add to an attack, which was disappointing in Centurion. Elgar made a ‘pair’ on his Test debut against Australia in Perth in 2012/13, dismissed by Johnson in both innings, but made a century against New Zealand in his only Test appearance in Port Elizabeth.
Johnson the key for South Africa: Whatever the selectors decide, the key for South Africa is to prevent Johnson from blasting away the top order batting. South African captain Graeme Smith faced only four balls from Johnson in the first Test and was dismissed twice, while fellow opener Alviro Petersen faced a total of 16 deliveries from Johnson in also falling to the big left-armer in both innings. The only South African batsman to handle Johnson with consistent confidence was AB de Villiers but it will take a collective effort from his teammates if South Africa are not to follow England, who were beaten 5-0 in a recent Ashes series, in being swept aside by Australia. It was not only the batsmen who failed in the first Test.
Despite having the world’s two highest-ranked fast bowlers in Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, as well as the dangerous Morne Morkel, South Africa’s bowlers were never able to match the menace of Johnson, while the fielding was so far below South Africa’s normal standard that De Villiers described it as ‘almost embarrassing’. Australia’s only challenge will be to maintain the intensity they showed in Centurion and for Johnson and his fellow bowlers to perform at the same level they showed in the first Test despite a relatively short turnaround time since the game ended a day early on Saturday. Australia’s batting was regarded as potentially fragile but new cap Alex Doolan and the recalled Shaun Marsh both shone at Centurion. Marsh, Steve Smith and David Warner all hit centuries while Doolan made 89.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (wkt), JP Duminy, Dean Elgar or Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), Chris Rogers, David Warner, Alex Doolan, Shaun Marsh, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon.
Umpires: Ian Gould, Richard Illingworth (both ENG)
Third umpire: Aleem Dar (PAK)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI).
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