One of the closest match-ups in recent Test cricket history rejoins battle over the next five weeks, with South Africa hosting Australia for a four-match Test series. The first game takes place at Durban’s Kingsmead ground starting on Thursday 1st March – followed over the next 30 days by matches in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The Proteas are ranked second in the world in Tests, with Australia hot on their heels in third. Added to that, both are coming off series wins over major nations – South Africa winning 2-1 over India, and the Aussies smashing England to smithereens in a 4-0 Ashes thumping. So whilst both sides’ one-day form has been variable of late, they will be high on confidence with a red ball in hand.
Also of note is that whilst there has been a growing worldwide trend over recent times for home teams to dominate in Tests, the opposite seems to hold true with these particular combatants – the last three series being won by the away side, most recently by South Africa in Australia in 2017. The conditions in both southern hemisphere nations are very similar, with fast bouncy tracks to the fore. So players from both sides will feel comfortable, and an intriguing month awaits.
Both sides have named two potential debutants in their squads for the series – the Australians have named young quick Jhye Richardson alongside perpetual baggy=green-in-waiting Chadd Sayers in their bowling ranks, whilst South Africa find a place for all-rounder Willem Mulder and back up keeper-batsman Heinrich Klaasen in their armoury.
There are plenty of individual milestones to keep an eye on as well as the series unfolds:
Morne Morkel (South Africa)
The in-form tall quick shocked everyone over the weekend by announcing his retirement from all international cricket at age 33 at the end of this series. Known affectionately as The Giraffe, Morkel has notched up 294 wickets in Tests so far, so will be looking for just six more to become only the 5th South African to join the 300-club. Ending his career in the company of Messrs Pollock, Steyn, Ntini and Donald would be a fitting way to sign off for the popular fast bowler.
Hashim Amla (South Africa)
One of South Africa’s all time great batsmen has a host of records and milestones in sight during a series in which he will turn 35.
Firstly, if he plays in all four games he will join former skipper Graeme Smith on 117 Test appearances for the Proteas, enough for third all-time behind only the legendary Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.
Secondly, sitting on 8,786, he is 214 runs shy of joining the 9,000 Test runs club, and if he makes it will become the third South African to do so after Kallis and Smith.
And finally, his safe hands will be confident of taking the one more catch at slip he requires to bring up a century in that category.
Nathan Lyon (Australia)
Not far behind Morkel in the career wickets category is man the Aussies like to call the GOAT, spinner Nathan Lyon. His 290 Test wickets are enough for seventh place all-time for Australia, and two more scalps will see him overtake Craig McDermott into sixth.
Ten wickets over the series will see him become only the sixth Australian after Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee to achieve the 300.
Vernon Philander (South Africa)
The burly quick bowler will be looking for just 12 wickets of his own over the series to bring up 200 for his country.
Steve Smith (Australia)
Having scored 6,057 in Tests, 3,431 in ODIs and 431 in T20Is, Australia’s skipper has 9,919 international runs so far. Given his form and Test average of 60-plus, it seems a foregone conclusion that he will achieve 10,000 over the next few weeks!
Shaun and Mitchell Marsh (Australia)
The Marsh brothers each have a batting milestone in sight, with Shaun looking for 79 runs to bring up 2,000 and the younger sibling Mitchell just 6 runs to notch up his first 1,000 for his country.
Dean Elgar (South Africa)
Opener and one-time stand in captain Elgar currently has 2,861 Test runs to his name, so will be confident he can find the 139 he needs for 3,000.