Centurion, South Africa, Oct 17: South Africa and Australia brought back their big-name players for a three-match one-day series starting Wednesday, with Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn returning for the Proteas and the Aussies under skipper Michael Clarke for the first time this tour.
Having drawn the Twenty20 series, the old foes will start their 50-over contest level again—but with both now at full strength and eager to set the tone ahead of a mouthwatering test battle next month.
Leading batsman Kallis and strike bowler Steyn are recalled for South Africa after resting for the two T20 games. Clarke takes over from T20 captain Cameron White for Australia and Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin also join the tour for the one-day opener at Centurion, near Pretoria.
Both sides are expecting a bit of “niggle” in the one-dayers as the business end of a monthlong tour begins.
“Personally for me, I'm really, really up for it,” veteran South Africa wicketkeeper Mark Boucher said on Monday. “We play against each other so much nowadays, but there is a really big rivalry between South Africa and Australia.
“I know that there are probably a couple of fans out there who want revenge for the Rugby World Cup. So there probably will be a bit of extra niggle in this series, guys wanting to really win. That just makes it greater to play in.”
South Africa has turned to tested performers Kallis and Steyn and has recalled the 34-year-old Boucher—who last played an ODI 16 months ago—in place of injured limited overs captain AB de Villiers.
The Aussies have added their experienced campaigners to a squad boosted at the other end of the age spectrum by the enormous promise of 18-year-old fast bowler Pat Cummins and fellow teenager and allrounder Mitchell Marsh, who both made impressive international debuts in the Twenty20 series.
“A bit of niggle means everyone is taking it seriously,” Cummins said. “Everyone is up there for the contest so it's always a good sign when there's a a bit of niggle, it definitely raises the stakes.
“It's the first one-day series I've been part of, but Australia are ranked No. 1 in the world at the moment so obviously we go into the competition pretty confident and hopefully we can get a few good wins.”
Australia struck first in the T20s with a five-wicket win in Cape Town over a rusty South Africa—which hadn't played in any format for six months. South Africa replied with a thrilling victory in the second game on Sunday to ensure there's nothing between the teams heading to the ODIs.
But with Clarke and co. back, the top-ranked Australia—under temporary coach Troy Cooley—expects to build on successive ODI series wins in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka this year.
The introduction of an experienced spine is also likely to be a major help for youngsters like Cummins and Marsh—who both showed they are dangerous players in the 20-over game.
“I've never really played with any of the (senior) guys or worked with them, so to be a part of the squad with those guys, (who have) obviously been around for a long time, successful in every format, it's going to be a big help,” Cummins said.
“They are a big reason why Australia are No. 1 at the moment in the ODIs and hopefully they can instill confidence in some of the younger guys.”
Third-ranked South Africa is skippered by Hashim Amla and led by World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten for the first time in an ODI series—the Proteas' first one-day outing since the latest of a string of infamous failures in cricket's top 50-over tournament.
“Gary is a very well-respected man, not only in South Africa but around the world now. And, when he talks you listen,” Boucher said after his first session under Kirsten on Monday. “He's got the respect and you don't take him for a fool at all.
“Just what I've seen today has been very relaxed, calm and that rubs off on players, it definitely does. He probably is very nervous, but what do they say about a duck and water? You don't see it on top but the feet are probably kicking underneath.”
Boucher also said there was no chance of South Africa's players being distracted by ongoing problems in the country's national cricket body, where the sports ministry said it will investigate a long-running scandal over alleged improper bonuses paid to Cricket South Africa's chief executive Gerald Majola.
“It's something for Cricket South Africa to take care of and to take care of pretty quickly,” Boucher said. “At the moment, we are really focussed on playing cricket, what we are here to do.”