Steve Smith and co demolished England last time out, wrapping up a 4-0 win in the best-of-five Ashes series at the SCG earlier this month. If they can pull off a similar feat when South Africa visit on March 1 they will move second in the world rankings. But they will have a very difficult job on their hands as the Proteas are in super form and brimming with confidence right now.
The series will pit the world’s top ranked batsman, Smith, against its top ranked bowler, 22-year-old Kagiso Rabada. The budding superstar has just inspired his team to a 2-1 series win over India and seems to be constantly improving. That moved South Africa within six points of India at the top of the rankings, but victory in the final match meant Virat Kohli’s team are now guaranteed to finish top by the cut-off date of April 3. That means India retain the mace and win the top prize of $1 million.
South Africa are in the driving seat for second place and only need to win one test in Australia to take the second prize of $500,000. There are four matches, so it sounds like a realistic goal for Faf du Plessis’ men, but England failed to win a single match on their tour in December and January. If Australia can play with a similar level of aggression, pace, power, grit and determination, they can usurp South Africa and leave themselves in a strong place heading into the second half of 2019.
Australia are floundering somewhat in limited-overs cricket at present, but they come into their own in test cricket thanks to the sheer depth of talent within their side. They crushed England in the Ashes, physically, mentally, even spiritually. Early on Nathan Lyon promised to end careers and then duly set about embarrassing a host of the tourists’ batsmen. They won mind games with the likes of Johnny Bairstow, and kept England’s leading lights largely quiet. Quicks Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were magnificent and England simply could not live with their ferocity.
Smith led by example, with willow and word, and showed why he is the ranked the world’s best batsmen by some distance. He battled on with discipline and determination throughout, putting England to the sword with morale crushing knocks time after time. When those around him floundered, Smith delivered. But others also came good when they needed to, from Shaun and Mitchell Marsh to Usman Khawaja and David Warner. After surrendering the ODI series to England, they must be desperate to get Lyon back in the team and get back to what they do best: winning test matches.
The best sportsbooks will have odds, check out reviews and find one that is highly rated, and you will see that Australia are favourites to win the series. But it will not be easy at all. South Africa will bring far greater confidence levels with them to Australia than England did after their strong showing against India this month. Rabada is the danger man, but 21-year-old Lungi Ngidi – a year younger than KR – is the next off the production line and looks like he could be just as devastating. He took a sensational six wickets to destroy India in the second test, scalping Kohli in the process, and these youngsters have ignited fans’ passion. Du Plessis, AB De Villiers, Dean Elgar et al will help keep them grounded, and South Africa have a strong blend of youth and experience, and greater continuity than England, so they will be a real threat. An Australian whitewash would be amazing, but it should prove to be a closer, tenser series than the Ashes.