Wednesday, January 8, 2014, 10:16
Heat will be on in S Africa
By Mark Ray

And now for something completely different: South Africa.

With a shambolic England dismembered and dispatched, the Australians - now third in the world Test rankings - have a few weeks R&R before they head to South Africa to meet the No 1 team.

That series looms as a battle between the fast bowlers.

Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel will no doubt have seen Australian coach Darren Lehmann's comments that he rates Australia's pace attack as the best around. They won't be pleased, but they will also know Lehmann is just stirring the possum, letting them know the Aussies will be up for the fight.

We might know in the early stages of that Test series, which starts on Feb 12, what toll the Ashes win has taken on Australia's bowlers. Ryan Harris said the other day he had been bowling on one leg for most of the summer. Let's hope that leg holds up.

If fit enough, Harris will test the host's strong batting in conditions that will suit his swing and seam. There is also no reason Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle can't bowl as well in South Africa as they have just done at home.

The big question surrounds Australia's fragile middle-order batting. The untried Alex Doolan may get the nod ahead of George Bailey for South Africa, but will that help?

Shane Watson is hanging onto the No 3 spot but he will be under intense pressure against the South Africans. Michael Clarke's batting faded in the Ashes series but that may have been due to the subconscious realization his side was going to win whether he made runs or not. He will have to be at his best in South Africa.

The South Africans will be confident, but temperamentally they are always vulnerable because when their game plan is threatened they tend to get flustered, to go into a defensive mode and fret. Clarke and Lehmann will be keen to try unusual tactics to throw the host off kilter.

David Warner will be a wild card for Australia. He will take risks against the new ball and, if the home bowlers lose their cool, Warner could cause some damage.

Still, Graeme Smith is a rare beast - a good South African captain. South Africans are not known for their tactical nous, but Smith is something of an exception.

In the back of all the South Africans' minds will be the gaping hole left by the retirement of the great all-rounder, Jacques Kallis. But one thing is certain. Unlike the Englishmen, the South Africans won't melt under a Johnson-led assault.

Mark Ray is a former professional cricketer and China Daily copy editor. He can be contacted at markray@chinadaily.com.cn