Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke decided there was no need to rush all-rounder Shane Watson back into the starting lineup if he was not fit enough to bowl, confident that the same Australia team that pushed hard for a result late in the drawn series-opening Test is capable of beating No. 1-ranked South Africa in the second Test that starts today.
Clarke was quick to dismiss any speculation, though, that Watson’s absence from the Adelaide Test had anything to do with reported friction between the skipper and his deputy.
“We have a great relationship,” Clarke told a news conference yesterday. “I know there’s been talk of that being a little bit different, but Watto and I, our friendship and our professional relationship when it comes to captain and vice-captain, is as close as I can certainly ask for.”
The prospect of Watson playing as a specialist batsman was considered, but ruled out by the Australian selectors, with a view to getting the all-rounder fit for consideration for the third Test in Perth next week.
That gave opener David Warner another chance to recover his form in the long format and Rob Quiney, who went into the Brisbane Test as a late replacement for Watson and scored nine runs on debut, an opportunity to press his claims with selectors.
Paceman Ben Hilfenhaus also got a reprieve, with the Australians opting to stick with the pace trio that was clobbered on the series-opening day in Brisbane, but rallied to get Australia back into contention after the second day of the match was washed out by rain.
Tall left-arm quick Mitchell Starc was widely tipped to start in place of Hilfenhaus, because he offers variety to the right-arm pace of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle, but again has been named as 12th man.
Offspinner Nathan Lyon is again to support the pacemen, but is expected to get more out of the Adelaide pitch, where he worked as a groundsman before making his Test debut.
Graeme Smith’s South Africa made two changes for the second Test, both expected.
Legspinner Imran Tahir returns to the starting lineup at the expense of Rory Kleinveldt, who was introduced as a fifth pace option for a Brisbane pitch that was expected to aid seam bowling, but did not live up to its reputation. Faf du Plessis is to start in the middle order for J.P. Duminy, who ruptured his Achilles tendon during a training drill after day one in the first Test and was ruled out of the series.
Smith expected Tahir to make a valuable contribution in Adelaide, where the pitch is generally flat for the first few days and then favors spin. The 33-year-old Tahir made his Test debut against Australia in Cape Town last year, where he only got to bowl five overs in the match because the Australians were skittled for 47 in the second innings.
South Africa only need to draw the three-Test series to retain the world No. 1 ranking. A draw in Adelaide is highly likely if both teams bat consistently, meaning the series could be decided on the traditionally fast WACA ground in Perth, where South Africa’s pacemen should feature prominently.
Smith said the squad’s disappointment in the draw in the first Test, after being in such a commanding position late on day three in Brisbane with Australia at 40-3 in reply to 450, showed that South Africa had come a long way. Australia, inspired by Clarke’s unbeaten 259, declared in the morning session on the last day with a 115-run lead, but South Africa held firm and lost five wickets to salvage a draw.
Clarke said Australia took confidence and momentum from the strong finish in the first Test. However, Smith said the wasted opportunities and an unusually below performance from a bowling lineup containing Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander — the two top-ranked fast bowlers in Test cricket — and Morne Morkel only proved there was plenty of room for improvement for the tourists.
“For us a disappointment in a draw is good, it shows that people expect us to play well and to perform well and that’s exciting for us,” Smith said. “We come to Adelaide knowing there are a few areas where we can definitely improve on and we’ve had some good discussions about that.”
“In terms of the No. 1 ranking, we know it’s going to be a process of us performing well for a period of time and this is the big challenge for us,” he added.