South Africa have their backs against the wall in their three-match series against Australia. To retain any hope of winning the series, South Africa have to win the second Test at St. George's Park.
What: South Africa vs. Australia, second Test
Venue: St George's Park, Port Elizabeth
When: Thursday 20-24 February 2014
Start time: 8:30 a.m. GMT/10:30 a.m. local time
Live on: SuperSport 2, South Africa; Sky Sports, UK
It wasn't that long ago that South Africa last went 1-0 down in a series. Just last year against Pakistan, South Africa came back to square the contest 1-1. But conditions were very different and there was no Mitchell Johnson to deal with.
At every single press conference I've attended since the cataclysm at Centurion, the Proteas have insisted that Centurion is now behind them and it's time to move forward.
South Africa have now had firsthand experience of what this version of Mitchell Johnson is capable of—and injuries to boot.
A bouncer from the left-arm quick has ruled Ryan McLaren out of the second Test with concussion, and South Africa now face the tricky prospect of trying to figure out how to fill their No. 7 spot. After years of living with the luxury of an extra seamer, it's hard to see anyone other than Wayne Parnell filling that role.
The three-pronged attack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel can certainly do damage, but with no real front-line spin option, Morkel has often had to slot into the role of being a containment bowler. That makes it difficult to rely on just three quicks. Fiddling with the makeup of the team too severely is far too much of a left-field approach for South Africa.
Australia, meanwhile, have everything that makes for a fearsome cricket unit. They have the enforcer and his deputies and, all of a sudden, they have two additional batsmen—Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith—who can pack a punch along with Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin.
On paper, the teams remain evenly matched. Psychologically, however, Australia have a massive edge. Not only are they ahead in the series, but since readmission, South Africa have never beaten Australia in South Africa. If there ever was a time for the No. 1 team to prove they are worthy of their status, it's now.
It's been over a year since Alviro Petersen scored a hundred in a Test match. His average in his last 15 innings sit at at touch over 23. He's a man under pressure, and if he plays, he's playing for his place this time. His dismissal in the first innings at Centurion was unnecessary, and it's imperative for the top order to do better and survive the first onslaught from Mitchell Johnson.
It goes without saying that, if you take 12-for-127 in a Test match, you're a rather handy player. Mitchell Johnson has shown what he is capable of away from home in the first Test now, and he'll want to follow up on that form to further assert his reputation as the best bowler in the world at the moment.
Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (w/k), JP Duminy,Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, MorneMorkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Robbie Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile
Michael Clarke (capt), Brad Haddin (w/k), Jackson Bird, Alex Doolan, Ryan Harris, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, James Pattinson, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, David Warner, Shane Watson, James Faulkner
Squads and stats via ESPN Cricinfo
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