As the cricketing world continues to reel from the implications of the ball-tampering scandal that hit Cricket Australia over the third Test, the last match of the series is yet to be played. The controversy has dampened all excitement for what could have been an excellent game of cricket.
The series struggles to retain it’s relevance as two of Australia’s best batsmen have been banned for a year each. The integrity of the side has been shattered, and the fourth Test runs the risk of merely being played out as a formality. However, the bans do present a great opportunity for youngsters to consolidate their place in the side; at least for the coming year. This match will truly test the mettle of the players, especially after the trauma of the past week.
Tim Paine (c), Joe Burns, Peter Handscomb, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Willem Mulder, Lungisani Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Where the teams stand
Joe Burns, Maxwell, and Matt Renshaw have been called up to replace the exiled triplet. Renshaw has been in great form for Queensland recently, scoring three centuries in his last 6 innings. Maxwell has been knocking on the doors of the Test team for a while now. Australia will be without both their openers, and it is imperative that their top three consist of their strongest players. The Marsh brothers will need to shoulder more of the responsibility with the bat after consistent performances far too low in the order. Renshaw and Khawaja will most likely open. The Marsh brothers need to come in at three and four, followed by Maxwell and Burns. Skipper Tim Paine can retain his spot at number 7. Darren Lehmann will have to figure out the ideal combination for the team in the absence of their stalwarts, and there is no time better than now to start doing so.
Perhaps the biggest shame of the entire scandal has been that Australia possess perhaps the best Test bowling attack going around. Starc, Cummins, and Hazelwood are all lethal with the ball. Lyon has also troubled the batsmen, picking up 5 wickets in the last Test. Australia have seldom been short on quality, but in the wake of everything that has happened, it will be hard to focus on the cricket. They lost the last Test by an innings and 322 runs, and returning home after another big loss will just be icing on the cherry for their fans. The least, and best they can do is to win and level the series.
South Africa will go into match heavily cast as favorites, and they are. They have won the last two Tests convincingly, and without Warner and Smith, Australia are toast without a miracle. It can be argued that Smith has only scored one half-century in six innings’, falling well short of his world-class standards. However, his absence and the circumstances behind it will inevitably have a huge impact.
Elgar and Markram performed well for South Africa in the third Test as AB sustained his great form over both the innings. de Kock and Philander scored half-centuries as well. Du Plessis continued to be a disappointment while Bavuma was ineffective as well. Amla has also been strangely quiet this series, giving the Proteas a half-performing, half-heavily under-performing lineup.
Morne Morkel will be playing in his final international game as he bids adieu to an illustrious career. He earned his career-best figures in the last Test, taking 9 wickets in the game. Rabada, Philander, and Maharaj will also be a part of the attack. Both the teams arguably have the number one and two bowling attacks in the world, regardless of the order. The bowlers have been key in this series, and they will continue to dictate the outcome of the series.
South Africa win. Too many doubts surround Australia and their ability to bounce back from such a scandal this soon.