This is it, apart from Lords, this is what every cricketer dreams for. A boxing day test at the MCG. After South Africa's heroics at the WACA, this game has added importance to The Proteas quest to be the No. 1 test team in the world.
If the Proteas win the match, they win the series and will be the first in their history down under. But it would be foolish to write off the Aussies just yet. Aussies mentality just suggests that no matter how out of form some players may be. They will never (NEVER) roll over for anyone.
These teams have had very little Christmas break but if any celebrations that were held, South Africa certainly enjoyed them more after the amazing performance in the first test. As opposed to the Aussies, all the South African players except for Neil McKenzie are in form. Even players like Paul Harris, Morne Morkel and JP Duminy showed they can cut it against the best.
South Africa's vice captain, Ashwell Prince could return after the damaged thumb he suffered just before the first test. If he is fit he should take the place of Duminy as Mickey Arthur's men revert to their tried and tested combination. Captain Graeme Smith has had a repeat of his tennis elbow but nothing unless life threatening will keep him out of a game such as this.
The Aussies are in a different situation all together. Hardly any of their players are in form. Simon Katich is in great touch but the rest are well short of their best. Michael Clarke is making runs but you can't say he is at his best. The 50's he makes would normally be 100's. Andrew Symonds seems a little rusty after his fishing trip in Darwin earlier this year.
Coach, Tim Nielsen has called up Tasmanian quick, Ben Hilfinhaus and NSW spinner, Nathan Hauritz. Hauritz will hopefully come in for Jason Krejza who is nothing short of average. Hauritz is no Shane Warne but he couldn't do any worse than Krejza. In the bowling department Mitchell Johnson looks to be the only man who can take wickets in the side. There is a lot for the men down under to do if they will turn around the series.
This is what players like Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Mayhaya Ntini have been waiting for. A series win in Australia and this is their best opportunity to do so. Coach, Mickey Arthur has installed a fighting spirit that will help them achieve this but Aussie competitiveness has always showed to come to the fore in the most unlikely circumstances but this 'Saffa' side is in top form.
Not many teams can go a whole year and claim beating the West Indies at home, Bangladesh away, India away (drawn series), England away and Bangladesh at home after they lost the great Shaun Pollock. That's already plenty cricket this year and one would feel the batteries will run out at some stage. But they havn't and the side is going from strength to strength.
I feel in the South African camp McKenzie will make runs. He is the type of man who can lift himself out of a bad slump and make amends with a big contribution. Smith will do well again. After all, when he is in bad form, you know it, and he struggles to get off the mark.
Amla can't seem to put a foot wrong at the moment. Kallis is not the same as he was a year or so ago but the greatness of the man can always make a difference. If he fails with the bat he normally does wonders with the ball.
Expect a good fighting display from Boucher. AB De Villiers worries me. He is the type of man who will fail after a wonderful match the game before. After I put the mockers on him he may prove me wrong and have a great game.
Depending on whether Duminy of Prince plays you can expect a fighting effort from either one.
In the bowling front, Paul Harris has surprised me indeed. He should continue to be a handful for the Aussies. Morne Morkel should be doing better as a man with such potential. But he does enough to be worried about if you an Aussie. Ntini and Steyn are the fire men and they are the two who can dictate the way the whole match can go.
In the Aussie camp, Hayden is clearly under massive pressure. My personal opinion is if he doesn't make runs in this test and the SCG, he will call it a day. He has to come to the fore. Simon Katich is in great form and backed to carry on that great run. Ricky Ponting won't get a first ball duck in this test. I feel he will be an example to the side and score big runs in this match.
He will play a captain's innings. Not one full of class but one out of guts and determination. This will go a long way to change the fate of the Aussies. Michael Hussey has too much of a reputation on his shoulders. Its almost if he doesn't score a hundred he failed. He should score more runs than he made at the WACA but he has some to find to make a 100. Clarke, Symonds and Haddin saved the Aussie blushes in Perth. Their fight can prove to be vital in the final result of the test.
Lee and Johnson are a great pair but the formers form is a worry. If he comes to the fore he can make the Aussies look a more formidable unit. If Stuart Clark plays, he can add the Glenn McGrath feel to the side and build pressure. His absence in Perth was a huge loss in the context.
If Siddle plays his pace can be a handful but I doubt he has the X-Factor at this level and lacks confidence. I have little idea of Ben Hilfinhaus. He could be anything. (If I'm not mistaken he has played an ODI along the line). Hopefully for the Aussies, Nathan Hauritz will play instead of Jason Krejza.
My final call is that the Aussies under the guidance of Ricky Ponting will level the series and we will see an epic final test to decide the series in the New Years test (starting a day later this year) at the SCG as the game which dictates the result of the series.
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