Aussie coach predicts fiery Proteas series
SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Top order batsmen will face a "baptism of fire" in South Africa's upcoming tour Down Under as the world's two best pace line-ups face off, Australian coach Mickey Arthur said yesterday.
Australia are hoping to reclaim cricket's world number one ranking over a packed Test schedule in the year ahead, starting with the first of three against top-ranked South Africa in Brisbane on November 9.
"It's going to be about the batters," Arthur said of the series.
"It is going to be about which top six can adapt better, which top six is going to be more consistent over the three Test series. I think both top sixes are in for a real baptism of fire."
Arthur said the ability of the Australian batsmen to hold off South Africa's bowling line up, which includes pacemen Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, was an opportunity to prove themselves.
On Australia's side, selector John Inverarity said there could be as many as five pace bowlers in the squad for the first Test at the Gabba, with James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Starc all in the mix.
"We're just delighted that we've got the pace bowling on tap that we have," Inverarity said.
The toughest choice for Australian selectors will be that of wicketkeeper and whether to name the more experienced Brad Haddin over Matthew Wade.
"We are aware of all the factors; I mean the fact that Matthew is 24 and rising and Brad turns 35 about now," Inverarity said.
"Obviously Matthew is more for the future, but we're very focused on who deserves and who will be best against South Africa."
Cricket Australia also defended its decision to withdraw Shane Watson midway through the Twenty20 Champions League in South Africa to have the all-rounder fresh and rested for the upcoming Test campaign at home.
"We need Shane to be best prepared for that first Test match," Arthur said of Watson, 31, who has proven himself with bat and ball in all forms of cricket and is a star of the Indian Premier League.
"For us right now his best preparation is coming back and playing some red-ball cricket."
South-African born Arthur admitted there was an extra incentive for him to "get one over" the Proteas in the upcoming series.
"On a personal level for me, I guess it has a little bit of extra spice to play against the country of your birth, the country that I coached for five years," he told journalists in Sydney.
But he said "first and foremost" the series was about Australia getting back to the top position in international cricket.
Australia dominated world cricket from 1995 but its fortunes dived after Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden retired, culminating in a 3-1 Ashes defeat at home in the 2010/11 season.
There have been recent signs of a revival with a 4-0 whitewash of India last summer at home and the emergence of a new generation of rising stars such as Pattinson, David Warner and Pat Cummins.
"We have a massive opportunity here to get back to number one in the world and that's what this series is going to be about," Arthur said.