We all know how Durban ended up but for the second Test in Port Elizabeth, much will depend upon the local conditions. For example, what are the acoustics like on the stairwell at St George’s Park? Does the layout allow for quick u-turns? And what are the precise locations of the security cameras? Every venue is different, and in order to be ready and adaptable, Australia would do well to familiarise themselves with the conditions before the Test.
Okay, enough of that. Steven Smith has ruled a line under the stairwell saga, but then again, lines ruled by Australia can tend to have unpredictable shape-shifting qualities. The fact is, there is only one thing to be thankful for in regards to the David Warner-Quinton de Kock issue: that the break between the Durban and Port Elizabeth Tests is only three days. Imagine if this had happened at the end of the Port Elizabeth Test, with an eight-day break before Cape Town. Imagine a full week of this. At least now we can all quickly focus again on the on-field action. Hopefully.
Australia lead the series 1-0, and have the chance to take an unbeatable advantage in Port Elizabeth. No member of their side scored a century at Kinsgmead but four of the top six managed fifties, and with the ball Mitchell Starc especially was in serious form. South Africa’s batting had higher highs – Aiden Markram’s 143 was a magnificent effort in a fourth-innings chase, and de Kock bounced brilliantly back to form after lean run – but they were also far less consistent. Still, a 118-run win for Australia might have reflected the difference in the sides in Durban, but there were enough signs from South Africa that the balance of power could change at any time.
South Africa LLWWW (last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
How can it be anyone but this pair?
Whatever Quinton de Kock said in that stairwell, he can be assured of hearing plenty of words coming his way when he bats at St George’s Park. But the uncomfortable fact for Australia is that de Kock found some much-needed touch in Durban, after 15 consecutive sub-50 scores in Tests. His 83 might not have been enough to pull off a miracle win for South Africa, but had Markram stayed with him at the crease, who could say what would have happened?
Perhaps the most fascinating outcome of the stairwell saga is that David Warner now finds himself one demerit point away from a suspension. That means that he will need to be on his best behaviour for the remainder of the series, which could be a challenge if any further provocation comes his way. Warner was nicknamed “The Reverend” when he became Australia’s vice-captain and tried to tone down his behaviour, but perhaps a monastic vow of silence would be wise while those demerit points hang over his head.
South Africa are likely to use the same XI, with Temba Bavuma still feeling some pain when he bats, and thus unlikely to return just yet.
South Africa (possible): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Theunis de Bruyn, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Morne Morkel.
Australia have confirmed that they will make no changes from the side that won in Durban.
Australia: 1 Cameron Bancroft, 2 David Warner, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Tim Paine (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch is expected to be somewhat slow and low, and a drying wind on match eve might dry it out a touch more. Spin and reverse swing are likely to play their roles. No rain is forecast for the match.
Stats and trivia
Australia have played only one Test in Port Elizabeth in the past 20 years – and lost it, in 2014
Morne Morkel is three wickets away from the milestone of 300 in Tests
Should Steven Smith fail to score a century in Port Elizabeth, it will make a stretch of three consecutive Tests in which he has not made a hundred – last time that happened, it was against South Africa in Australia in 2016
“We just want to get back to playing good cricket and make sure we play them on skill and get the emotion out of it.”
Australia captain Steven Smith