For lovers of test cricket, the next eighteen months is a very exciting period. After yet another tour of one dayers and T20’s followed by the T20 World Cup, the focus will definitely switch to test cricket.
First up is a three test series with South Africa starting November 9 and stretching in to early December. Incredibly a win in this series would see the Aussies re-claim the world number one ranking.
A couple of points strike me about this series, one is that its the first time South Africa have not toured here in the December – January period. Conditions are often quite different in November. That brings me to my next point. The Proteas, since readmission in 1992, have never played a test at the Gabba, the venue for the first test. This will have to be advantage for the Aussies in their quest to get off to a good start in that series.
Don’t forget Australia hasn’t lost a test at the Gabba since 1988/89.
They may need a good start to the series however, as recent results in Adelaide and Perth, the venues for the final tests, have not been as good in recent years.
The South African team will be hard to beat, with a strong core of batting around Smith, Amla, De Villiers and Kallis, while the pace bowling is phenomenal with Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis.
The Proteas have a couple of issues to sort out. One being the spin bowling spot. Imran Tahir looks like a leggie who will go for plenty of runs out here. Then there is their keeping spot. With the sudden retirement of Boucher, De Villiers was thrust into the role. This can not be a long term scenario as his productivity as a #5 batsman must be reduced.
Assuming they go for a full time keeper, they must decide who bats at 6 between Rudolph and Duminy. Neither have really set test cricket alight with any consistency and this could be a weakness the Aussies look to exploit.
From there, the Christmas/New Year series against Sri Lanka will be a good series. While Sri Lanka have tended to struggle in tests on Australian soil, any side with a batting line up that includes Dilshan, Sangakkarra and Jayawardene will be hard to beat. The struggle for them will be the bowling, although they will be confident in their spin attack, especially as they play a test at the spin friendly SCG.
Four tests in India follow in February to March 2013. An Indian tour is always tough however this one may not be as tough. The Indian team, coming off the back of consecutive white washes in England and Australia in the last year, is in a state of transition. The retirements of Dravid and Laxman will create a big hole in their batting and Sehwag is not the player he used to be. Sehwag does however play much better at home and will be after one last feast on the Australian attack.
Much will depend as usual on the great man, Sachin Tendulakar, and they will look to Gambhir to step up into a leadership role and Kohli to continue the form he showed in Australia. He would be my tip to take the coveted number three spot vacated by Dravid.
Bowling is a weakness for India, however this is usually not the case at home as they play their seemingly endless supply of spinners. Ashwin will be far better than he was out here and don’t be surprised if Harbajhan Singh makes a return to the side.
The Indian pace attack has been in decline for a while. Their best bowler, Zaheer Khan, is well into his thirties, while others such as Sharma and Irfan Pathan just haven’t come on as India would have hoped after impressive starts to their careers.
All of these tours are just the entree to the big ones, the away and home Ashes series against the old enemy England. England right now are there for the taking, having struggled somewhat to beat the West Indies at home and losing 2-0 to South Africa. The batting that once looked impenetrable now looks a bit shaky.
Much is left now to Cook, Bell and Trott. Strauss is near the end and Pietersen is gone for reasons that are well documented. This means they have some pretty inexperienced players at 5 and 6. Expect all to be forgiven and KP to be back in the side come the first test at Lords in July.
The Proteas made the English attack look average at best. Australia must look at exactly how they did this and follow the lead. I would expect Anderson, Broad, Finn and Bresnan to be right back to top form by the Ashes and Swann seems to save his best for the Aussies. A key strategy for Australia is to not let Swann get a wicket in his first over, an occurrence that has happened far too often in the past.
If Australia have to lose one of the two series, it would be the one in England as the Ashes go back on the line just a few months later down under. A win in this series would see the Ashes being held until 2017.
Stay tuned for the next piece on the make up of the Australian team in this important period.