SA’s home from home: Australia

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

PERTH is a strange place for a range of reasons, not least as the setting for the opening act of a test series involving South Africa.

It is an undeniably Australian city – in what other country might you stumble into a bar called “The Lucky Shag” – but if you venture north to the outlying Clarkson you will find “Die Gereformeerde Evangeliese Kerk van Australie”. And that’s only the original: there’s another congregation in Palmyra.

Lucky shags? There’s probably more of them around the place, too.

But, all jokes aside about the sacred and the profane, Perth is also where Australia and South Africa will be this week to prepare for the first test at the WACA on Thursday.

Which is puzzling. South Africa have not lost any of the three tests they have played there. Indeed the WACA is where they struck the first blow in their successful 2008-09 series, and where they clinched the 2012-13 rubber.

Why would Cricket Australia put the first test in Perth rather than in, say, damp, chilly Hobart – where South Africa have played five one-day internationals but no tests, and where the second match of the series will be contested?

And from there it’s on to Adelaide, the scene of the famous fightback inspired by Faf du Plessis’s century on debut in 2012-13. Surely that’s also not too clever.

Not that Australia have many places to hide from South Africa at home these days.

If you had to ask for a show of hands in South Africa’s dressingroom to find those who have been on the losing side in a test series in Australia only two would go up: those belonging to Neil McKenzie and Charl Langeveldt, the batting and bowling coaches.

AB de Villiers would have been on that shortlist were it not for the surgically repaired elbow that has kept him at home, but none of South Africa’s other players know the particular pain of putting up with a bunch of triumphant Aussies in their own backyard.

South Africa’s hosts have been generous in another way by allowing two tour matches before the start of the series and another during.

Getting the Saffers to agree to play with the pink ball was part of that decision, but still.

That said, from the distance of the scorecard things didn’t go according to plan for the visitors on their last day of preparation under match conditions against a South Australia XI in Glenelg on Friday.

Not to worry, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj said after South Africa’s bowlers conceded 435/8: “The scoreboard is not a reflection of what we’ve worked on.

“We just wanted to execute our plan as we would do in the test matches to come. I wouldn’t worry too much about what we saw here – we had a plan in mind and we’ve executed it as best we could.”

You know a team is getting somewhere when even the uncapped kids don’t blink at spinning that kind of flimsy wordplay.

But such is South Africa’s assuredness going into the series that Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada didn’t bother bowling on Friday. That’s confidence of an Australian order.

Or is it, finally, South African self-belief?

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