Gary Kirsten believes Australia’s brittle batting line-up must stand up if it is to notch yet another series win against the Proteas on foreign soil.
Ahead of the first of four Tests, which starts in Durban on Thursday evening (Australian time), Kirsten, who played 101 Tests for South Africa between 1993 and 2004, expects ball to dominate bat.
“In my view, in South Africa, it often comes down to which team bats better in what can be trying conditions,” Kirsten told The New Daily.
“I think the ball moves around a lot more in South Africa than in Australia; both teams have very good bowling attacks.
“I think it rests with the Australian top six; they need to be able to navigate the conditions as best they can.
“The South African top six, at full strength, are used to navigating their way to scores of 300-plus. It will be up to the Australian top six to see whether they can match it.
“History tells you that a score of 300-350 is a really good score in South Africa.”
David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh and Mitch Marsh look certain to make up Australia’s top six in Durban.
Three of them – Khawaja, Bancroft and Mitch Marsh – are yet to play a Test in South Africa and both of the West Australians average less than 30 at Test level.
Kirsten, who coached South Africa from 2011-2013 and is currently in charge of the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash League, insists the Aussies must play smart cricket and adapt to the conditions, otherwise they will have their work cut out.
“Smith and Warner are obviously very experienced, and Shaun Marsh has a good deal of experience – a lot will rest on them,” Kirsten, who made 21 Test hundreds, said.
“I’ll be interested to see how the Australian batting line-up actually strategise in playing in these conditions.
“Typically it requires a little bit more patience than what it does playing in Australia, where you can play a more aggressive game because the wickets are truer.
“You need to leave well in these conditions and you’re never quite ‘in’ – you’re playing and missing a lot of balls, there’s a bit of uneven bounce.”
Since the Proteas’ readmission to world cricket in 1991, South Africa is yet to win a series at home against Australia.
It’s a telling statistic, one the likes of Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and young gun opener Aiden Markram will be eager to change.
“With Elgar, Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis and possibly de Kock, and then a couple of younger guys, there’s a lot of experience in that top six – that definitely helps in South Africa,” Kirsten said.
Kirsten’s former teammate, Fanie de Villiers, agrees that, given the quality of the respective bowling attacks, the pressure is well and truly on the batsmen.
However, the former pace ace, who took 85 wickets in 18 Tests between 1991 and 1998, said it’s the hosts who must rise to the occasion.
“If you look at what has happened in the past five Test matches, you’ve got a problem with Amla, you’ve got a problem with de Kock, you’ve got a problem with the young guys that are trying to find their feet,” de Villiers told The New Daily.
“It’s not the strongest batting line-up.
“Hopefully we can get the boys back on track, but the past five Test matches the averages are not too impressive.”
Australia’s Test tour of South Africa
First Test – Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5
Second Test – St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13
Third Test – Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26
Fourth Test – Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3