SA v AUS 2018: 5 players who will define the upcoming Test series

Both sides have some top-notch Test cricketers in their squad.

After the Ashes and the Freedom Test series between South Africa and India, Test cricket will witness another mouth-watering contest as the 'mighty' Aussies take on the Proteas in the Rainbow nation.

The Australia team look mighty again as they handed a 4-0 drubbing to England in the recent Ashes. But the Steve Smith led side has the task to prove themselves overseas, as it has been a little over 2 years since they last won a Test series outside Australia and there is no better place to prove their overseas ability than South Africa. Moreover, the only side that has been able to defeat them at home this decade is South Africa who has done it twice (2012 and 2016).

On the other hand, South Africa would want to regain their confidence back after the Indian series. Yes, they beat India but that seems to be a thing of distant past, after they lost the 3rd Test and hardly managed to compete in the limited overs series.

Like most of the series in the Proteas nation, this seems to be another high quality contest between the fast bowlers and the batsmen. With some top-class cricketers in both departments on either sides, this is set to be another memorable series between the two nations.

Here are 5 players who have the potential to put up series-defining performance:

1.  Steve Smith

Steve Smith

Australia’s batting largely depends on two batsmen - David Warner and Steve Smith. If David Warner provides the side with kinetic energy, Steve Smith is the guy who fills their batting with potential.

The ICC Test Cricketer Of The Year 2017, the No. 1 Test batsman at present, the cog that keeps the whole Aussie batting moving, Steve Smith has scored more challenging hundreds than any other batsman at present.

Be it a green track in New Zealand or a dust bowl in Pune, Steve Smith has match-winning Test hundreds everywhere. His first innings in South Africa had a hundred in a winning cause. And Steve Smith has only become a better batsman since then.

He has the highest batting average for any batsman who has played over 60 Tests (63.75) and the fact that he is only behind Sir Don Bradman in terms of rating points, speaks volumes about his batting temperament.

Since his last tour of South Africa, Smith has featured in four Test series of 4 games or more, and has turned out to be Australia’s highest run scorer on each occasion.

His 141* in Brisbane helped Australia lift themselves out of a precarious situation in the first Ashes Test. The innings not only won the match for Australia, but set the tempo for the whole series in which Australia dominated England.

His hundred in Pune, Ranchi and Dharamsala kept Australia fighting till the last ball of the Border-Gavaskar series, when most cricket pundits had discredited the team as the worst Aussie side they have seen.

Steve Smith has been carrying the Australian batting on his shoulders and if Smudge’s dream run from the Ashes continues, the South African bowlers are going to have a lot of headaches.

2. Pat Cummins

Pat Cummins is fit and raring to go | Getty

Patrick ‘Pato’ Cummins is enthralling to watch when he is in full flow. Talk about the most promising fast bowlers at present and Pat Cummins will always be right up there with Kagiso Rabada, not only in this series but throughout his career, if he manages to keep the injuries away.

It has been 7 years since Cummins made his Test debut in the rainbow nation, took a 6-wicket haul, finished the game with the bat ensuring a thrilling series-levelling victory and won the man-of-the-match award on his debut before walking in the oblivion for the next 6 years.

But since his comeback, he has not missed many games for Australia. He played in all the five Tests of the Ashes series and also participated in the ODI series which was a massive boost for the Kangaroos.

On the spin-friendly pitches in India, he bowled his heart out to take 8 wickets in two games. He became the highest wicket-taker in the Ashes with 23 scalps to his name. With his pace and bounce, Cummins has the potential to make the Proteas batsmen hop, skip and duck, even on the dullest of pitches.

Cummins is also handy with the bat and his ability to score crucial runs with the bat lower down the order, makes him an absolute luxury for any captain.

3. AB de Villiers

AB de Villiers | Getty

It is tough to overlook AB de Villiers when you are writing down the list of most influential players in modern-day cricket. Irrespective of the format, AB de Villiers is one of the few batsmen who hold the calibre to perform in any condition.

AB made impactful contributions in South Africa’s preceding Test series against India. His effortless 65 & 80 in the first two Tests (coming into bat at the scores of 7/2 and 3/2 respectively) were one of the most high-class knocks that ended below three-figures.

The knocks did not only put the Proteas innings back on track, but his counter-attacking skills helped closed the gates on India’s comeback in the series.

AB de Villiers has also defied the Aussies countless times in his 14-year Test career. 

In 2008, he scored a second innings hundred to guide South Africa to the second highest run chase in Test cricket (414 at Perth). In 2012, he put his head down with Faf du Plessis to score 33 runs off 220 deliveries to steal a draw in Adelaide, and then he followed it up with a brilliant 169 at Perth, powering South Africa to another series win over the Kangaroos.

In 2014, when most of the Proteas batsmen struggled against the pace and bounce of Mitchell Johnson; AB de Villiers batted at ease scoring 91 in the first Test before a hundred in the second Test.

Overall, De Villiers averages 51.05 at home against Australia in Test cricket, and a typical AB de Villiers show in this series, will keep the Proteas on the right track.

4. Kagiso Rabada

Kagiso Rabada | Getty

Kagiso Rabada has just hit his youth but has already shown the ability to lead South Africa’s bowling attack by becoming the No. 1 bowler in the Test rankings.

Just when South Africa was asking, ‘’Who after Dale Steyn?”, they got the answer in Kagiso Rabada, who appeared from their bottomless quiver of fast bowlers, who can consistently trouble batsmen with genuine pace and bounce.

South Africa defeated India in the 3-match Test series in which Rabada chipped in with 15 wickets. South Africa defeated Sri Lanka, with Rabada taking 19 wickets in the three Tests.And when Proteas defeated the Aussies Down Under, Rabada dented them with 15 scalps in the three matches.

Aussies have always been imperious with their sledging and their skipper, Steve Smith has confirmed that they will be looking to sledge Rabada out of the game by breaking his concentration.

But all Rabada needs to do is to keep himself calm and stay away from saying anything near the stump mic and let his bowling wreck all the havoc.

5. Mitchell Starc 

Mitchell Starc | Getty

The last time Australia beat South Africa, Mitchell Johnson bombarded them with short balls and this year, the Proteas batsmen will have the challenge to counter Mitchell Starc’s swing and seam.

With the new ball, he can swing it the traditional way and with the old ball, he knows how to reverse the ball. And no one bowls inswinging yorkers as consistently and effectively as Starc.

Starc has the reputation of making life hard for the opposition openers and then he can come back to run through the lower order.

In an age where every side looks for a significant contribution from their lower order, Starc’s expertise to take the tail out of the game, makes him a delight for any captain.

Six of his 22 wickets in eight innings during the recently concluded Ashes were openers. Needless to say, Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram will have their task cut out as they face him in the series.

Starc can reverse the old ball as well and add his surprising bouncers to that, and he can trigger a collapse at any stage of the game, given the right rhythm strikes him.

This is Starc’s first Test series in South Africa, and he will definitely want to make a mark with his skills in the country. A fit Mitchell Starc can create troubles for the South African batsmen in this series.

By Shubh Aggarwal - 28 Feb, 2018

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