20/04/2024

Both Marnus Labuschagne (left) and Kagiso Rabada (right) will be central to their team’s fortunes during this upcoming Test series. (Photos: cricket.com.au & @ProteasMenCSA / Design: Will Cuckson)

A three-match Test series between Australia and South Africa will officially begin at the Gabba on Saturday morning. It looms as yet another tense battle between the two countries, who have played out some enthralling contests in recent times.

Australia is fresh off a comprehensive 2-0 series victory against the West Indies and will be hoping to capitalise on that momentum. However, South Africa presents as a more challenging opponent, with its formidable pace attack likely to relish Australian conditions.

The Inner Sanctum previews the upcoming Test series set to be played across Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Big Picture

South Africa will likely be unfazed by a tour down under, having not lost a Test series in Australia since 2005/06. This success on Australian soil has involved some incredible individual performances from South African players, whether that be with the bat or the ball.

More recently, both Australia and South Africa have enjoyed terrific success in the Test format, seeing them currently sit first and second respectively on the World Test Championship points table.

There’s no shortage of exciting matchups to look forward to, with each team boasting several high-quality cricketers. Perhaps the most enticing aspect of this series is the bowling firepower set to be on display, even despite the absence of Josh Hazlewood due to injury.

All signs point towards a competitive, entertaining, and hard-fought series. Which country will walk away as victors in the next chapter of this fierce rivalry?

Last Time They Met

The last Test series to be played between Australia and South Africa was in March 2018, where it was the Proteas who clinched a 3-1 series win on their home turf. The third Test in Cape Town also set the scene for the infamous ball-tampering scandal which rocked Australian cricket. 

Despite winning the first Test by 118 runs, Australia struggled from that point onwards, losing the following three Tests in comprehensive fashion. Pat Cummins was the standout from Australia’s point of view, collecting 22 wickets at an average of 21.45.

Meanwhile, for the Proteas, Dean Elgar averaged 47.57 with the bat, whilst Kagiso Rabada picked up 23 wickets to be the leading wicket taker of the series.

South Africa were also victorious during the 2016/17 series which took place in Australia, beating the hosts 2-1. This included a heavy defeat for the Aussies in the second Test in Hobart, losing by an innings and 80 runs.

Australia will be keen to atone for some of these poor past performances against South Africa in the Test arena this summer. 

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Key Players

Marnus Labuschagne

As the ICC’s number one ranked Test batter, Marnus Labuschagne will undoubtedly be key to Australia’s chances of winning the series. The opening Test at the Gabba will also mark the first time Labuschagne has played against his country of birth, adding extra personal significance to the series. 

Given South Africa’s potent bowling attack, Labuschagne will most likely need to absorb pressure at the crease and bat for long periods of time. He is certainly in a rich vein of form, having piled on 502 runs across two Tests against the West Indies. 

From South Africa’s perspective, dismissing Labuschagne cheaply will go a long way towards achieving success. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Proteas’ pace bowlers potentially target Australia’s number three with a barrage of short balls. 

The 28-year-old has occasionally shown a level of discomfort to a well-directed bouncer, with Alzarri Joseph in particular recently troubling him. Whilst it didn’t ultimately lead to his downfall, South Africa may look to employ such a strategy to unsettle Labuschagne.

Can the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Marco Jansen ruffle the Aussie’s feathers?

Cameron Green

In light of both sides boasting world-class bowling attacks, this upcoming series could involve some low-scoring affairs. It means that every run will count, making middle and lower-order contributions all the more valuable.

Cameron Green didn’t receive many opportunities with the bat against the West Indies, with Australia’s top-order inflicting the majority of the damage. Yet should South Africa’s bowling attack perform at its best, Green may be required to dig his side out of trouble throughout various points in the series. 

The 23-year-old struggled to find any rhythm in Adelaide last week, but some strong individual performances against the South Africans could give Australia the edge. Green is still searching for his maiden Test century, a feat that he will no doubt be eager to achieve sooner rather than later.

The value of his bowling should also not be underestimated. The right-arm seamer will need to support the likes of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, and Scott Boland during the series. 

Dean Elgar

Captaining his country for the very first time on Australian soil, Dean Elgar will be central to South Africa’s prospects of posting winning totals. The left-hand opening batter will be looking to set the tone at the top of the innings and repel the threat of the new ball. 

Elgar has 13 Test centuries to his name, two of which were recorded against Australia. The 35-year-old scored 141 not out in Cape Town in 2018, whilst also notching 127 runs in Perth back in 2016. 

Adding to his importance is the fact that South Africa have a largely inexperienced batting line-up, with many embarking on their maiden tour of Australia. Should Australia dismiss Elgar early, it could potentially leave the Proteas exposed.

Can Elgar lead from the front and thwart Australia’s highly skilled bowling attack?

Keshav Maharaj

Much of the talk leading into this series has been centred around South Africa’s plethora of fast bowling options. However, left-arm orthodox spinner Keshav Maharaj may have just as big an influence on the completion of the series. 

Maharaj has plenty of experience under his belt, having played 45 Test matches thus far for South Africa. He is also accustomed to touring Australia, after earning his Test debut in Perth in 2016. 

The 32-year-old collected 17 wickets during the 2018 series played in South Africa, claiming the big scalp of Steve Smith on two occasions.

An Ashes series last summer saw Australia target England’s left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who struggled to adapt to the aggression shown by the home side. If Maharaj can successfully contain Australia’s batters, this will help enable South Africa to build pressure from both ends. 

Will Australia’s batters get the better of Maharaj?

Key Matchup

David Warner v Kagiso Rabada

Two fiery competitors in David Warner and Kagiso Rabada will once again lock horns in what shapes as a must-watch battle. 

Warner’s recent struggles in Test cricket have been well documented, particularly the fact that he hasn’t scored a Test century since January 2020. It’s a drought that the 36-year-old will be looking to bring to an end, silencing his critics in the process. 

Rabada has had the better of Warner in past meetings, dismissing him four times during the most recent Test series between the two teams in 2018. 

It’s likely expected that Rabada will seek to challenge Warner from around the wicket, using his angle to lure the left-hander into a false shot outside the off stump. This formula has worked well for other right-arm seamers, notably Stuart Broad in England during the 2019 Ashes. 

Neither player will take a backward step throughout the series, meaning the cricket public could bear witness to plenty of fireworks. 

Predicted XI’s

Australia:

  1. David Warner
  2. Usman Khawaja
  3. Marnus Labuschagne
  4. Steve Smith
  5. Travis Head
  6. Cameron Green
  7. Alex Carey (wk)
  8. Pat Cummins (c)
  9. Mitchell Starc
  10. Nathan Lyon
  11. Scott Boland

South Africa:

  1. Dean Elgar (c)
  2. Sarel Eree
  3. Rassie van der Dussen
  4. Temba Bavuma
  5. Theunis de Bruyn
  6. Kyle Verreynne (wk)
  7. Marco Jansen
  8. Keshav Maharaj
  9. Kagiso Rabada
  10. Anrich Nortje
  11. Lungi Ngidi

Squads

Australia:

Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Lance Morris, Michael Neser, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner

South Africa:

Dean Elgar (c), Temba Bavuma, Gerald Coetzee, Theunis de Bruyn, Sarel Eree, Simon Harmer, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen, Kyle Verreynne, Lizaad Williams, Khaya Zondo

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