TELFORD VICE, Hobart
MOST of the South African team who won the first test against Australia by 177 runs at the WACA on Monday took to the outdoor nets shortly after arriving at Bellerive Oval for Friday’s training session.
But not Stephen Cook, who was doing fielding drills on the outfield, nor Keshav Maharaj, who was bowling in the indoor nets.
Did that mean South Africa had decided on their XI for the second match of the series starting on Saturday?
“No, not yet,” Faf du Plessis said. “I haven’t seen the pitch, so we want to have a look and also decide what we want to do with the team – there’s a bit of weather around – to see which combinations to go with.”
Australia, too, did not announce a team, an unusual step for them.
“They’re in a similar position as us,” Du Plessis said. “You’re not sure.”
Up to 40 millimetres of rain is forecast to fall on Saturday. But Friday was also supposed to be wet and by late in the afternoon not a drop had fallen.
Which only added to the uncertainty for both camps.
“If it rains for pretty much the whole day (on Saturday) it becomes a four-day game,” Du Plessis said.
“You want to pick your strongest team for the conditions. They want to wait and see exactly what that will be.”
Might that mean South Africa will go in without a spinner?
“There’s a possibility of that,” Du Plessis said. “If it becomes a really shortened game, a three-and-half or four-day game and the pitch is under the covers, the ball’s going to be wet and it’s going to be cold and there’ll be a bit of moisture in the wicket, then it’s something we will look at.”
With Dale Steyn out of the equation because of a fractured shoulder, South Africa will have to make at least one change.
They have Morne Morkel, if he is over his back injury, and Kyle Abbott in reserve to fill that vacancy.
Both could play if South Africa opt for an all-pace attack, which would give Maharaj reason to feel aggrieved.
He performed above and beyond expectation with both bat and ball on debut at the WACA, taking 3/56 in Australia’s first innings, scoring an unbeaten 41 in South Africa’s second dig, and then doing a fine holding job to help the visitors manage their limited bowling resources in the Steyn-less Australian second innings.
At least, if he doesn’t crack the nod on Saturday, Maharaj will know he hasn’t been dropped.
Not so Cook, whose most valuable contribution in the first test was staying alive for 73 minutes in South Africa’s second innings despite looking like he might get out to every other ball bowled to him.
The problem for South Africa is that their spare batsman, Rilee Rossouw, is not an opener.
On top of that, the less emphatic conditions at a venue where the team batting first have been able to declare four times in the last five tests could help Cook play himself back into form.
Dwaine Pretorius, Steyn’s squad replacement, was due to arrive in Hobart on Friday night but was delayed by the storms lashing Johannesburg.
He is now expected to join the squad on Saturday.
Australia will replace opener Shaun Marsh, who needs surgery to mend a broken finger, and fast bowler Peter Siddle, who aggravated an old back injury in the first test.
Joe Burns looks set to come in for Marsh with Joe Mennie likely to make his debut in Siddle’s spot.