Perth (Australia) – By Michael Bradley (AFP)
Lethal fast bowlers Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn will spearhead the attacks as Australia and South Africa renew hostilities in a five-match one-day series opening in Perth on Friday.
Johnson and Steyn are world cricket’s most lethal speedsters and will look to create mayhem on an expected lively WACA pitch in the first of two ODIs in the Western Australia capital.
No love is lost between the two cricket nations who are just shaded in the ODI rankings by India, with South Africa ahead of Australia by a single ranking point.
The series comes just three months before the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with the Proteas looking for another psychological edge over the Australians after beating them twice in Zimbabwe in August-September.
“There’s always tension between the two sides,” Johnson said. “It’s probably going to be fiery again. There’s a lot of history there.
“Both teams don’t like to lose and you see that fire in the belly. A lot of the guys will talk after the game… but I think hate is too strong a word.”
Johnson showed his menacing streak ahead of Friday’s first ODI when he struck team-mate Steve Smith a painful blow on a finger in the nets.
Johnson is in line for a rare double as cricketer of the year after a shortlist of nominees was announced by the ICC last week.
During the voting period of August 26, 2013 and September 17, 2014, the 2009 winner Johnson claimed 59 wickets in eight Tests at an impressive average of 15.23.
– ‘Hard brand of cricket’ –
Steyn was formidable in his last tilt at the Australians, taking four for 34 with Proteas skipper AB de Villiers describing him as “the best bowler of reverse swing in the world by a long way”.
While Steyn is the tourists’ key attack, Faf Du Plessis has an outstanding record with the bat against Australia with scores of 106, 126 and 96 during South Africa’s recent triangular series win in Zimbabwe.
Du Plessis, 30, realises that to continue his stunning form he’ll have to do it with a target on his back.
“You can see they’ve got plans when you come out to bat, where they try to get you out,” du Plessis said.
“But in the same way, I plan for what they plan. So it’s just trying to be smart and thinking on your feet.”
Coach Russell Domingo, who has overseen South Africa winning 10 of their last 11 ODIs, is preparing for a feisty series.
“We expect the Australians to play a hard brand of cricket, that’s the way they play their cricket and it’s not something we are too concerned about,” Domingo said.
“We want to focus on how we carry ourselves and how we conduct ourselves on the field; we will try and do that in the best way possible.”
Australia skipper Michael Clarke heads into the series averaging just 14.25 during the recent two-Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, leading some to question his captaincy.
But team-mate George Bailey said it is wrong to criticise Clarke given his strong overall record as a captain, which includes a 5-0 Ashes win over England and a Test series victory away to South Africa.
“If you look at his record it speaks for itself,” Bailey said. “It’s obviously a position people care a lot about. The Australian cricket team means a lot to a lot of people.
“But I’ll back Pup (Clarke) to the hilt in terms of his performance and what he’s done.”