SA calm, Aussies scrambling as pink-ball test looms

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TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

YOU can learn a lot by studying the fixture list, and even more by reading between its lines.

South Africa, for instance, were due to play against a Victoria XI at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Saturday and Sunday.

The match is the visitors’ last dress rehearsal for the third test against Australia in Adelaide on Thursday –  South Africa’s first foray into the oldest format’s brave new world of day/night play using the pink ball.

The game at the MCG is to be played under the same conditions. But it has been reduced to a 50 overs-a-side affair on Saturday only with South Africa batting first to gain experience of being at the crease during the difficult twilight period when the ball seems to seam and swing more than its red counterpart.

Perhaps the MCG match has been truncated because South Africa clinched the series by winning the second test by an innings and 80 runs at Bellerive Oval in Hobart on Tuesday.

Which could also explain why the South Africans don’t seem to be about to reinvent themselves for the sake of lights, camera, action in Adelaide.

“I don’t think we are going to change much,” selection convenor Linda Zondi said when he was asked if the visitors were mulling diverting from orthodox thinking for the third test.

“It’s important that we maintain the stability of the squad and the structure of the starting XI.

“When we come up with a decision in the starting XI, we give guys and opportunity and we back guys.

“That’s what we’ve done and we are going to try and keep doing that.”

Even so there might be merit in sending a couple of middle order men to open the innings if South Africa bat first.

The trend in pink-ball first-class games in Australia has been for the team batting first to make hay (and runs) while the sun shines and declare after two sessions to take advantage of the better bowling conditions under lights.

A crash of wickets could be avoided if the regular openers, armed with their tighter techniques, are kept in reserve.

Not that Zondi ruled out different personnel for the third test.

“That’s why we’ve got a squad of 16, that’s part of the plan,” he said. “Within the squad we’ve got enough variation.”

Maybe that’s why uncapped left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi was bowling with a dozen or so pink balls in the indoor nets at Bellerive Oval.

What with the relatively rapid deterioration of the ball an issue, wouldn’t it make sense to preserve it by deploying both Shamsi and left-arm orthodox spinner Keshav Maharaj in Adelaide?

And wouldn’t it be a good idea to establish answers to questions like those by staging first-class franchise matches under pink-ball conditions in South Africa?

“Absolutely,” Zondi said. “You cannot be in a position where at international level you play with a particular ball but then, from a franchise point of view, where you are selecting your international players from, the guys are not familiar (with the pink ball).

“Sooner or later it will be an idea to make sure all those guys we pick from are using the pink ball.”

The South Africans have the luxury of mulling these issues at length.

Not so the Aussies, who sent their struggling test batsmen back to their state teams to sort themselves out in the round of Sheffield Shield matches that started on Thursday.

Three of those who played in the second test batted on Thursday – Joe Burns was out for four, Usman Khawaja made 106 and Adam Voges scored 12 before being smacked on the helmet by a bouncer and groggily stumbling from the scene.

Two of those who might be in the mix when the squad for the third test is announced on Sunday by Trevor Hohns, who has been installed as an interim selection chair in the wake of Rod Marsh’s resignation on Wednesday, put up their hands.

Peter Handscomb scored an undefeated 110 and Matt Renshaw made 108.

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