Seven years ago, Australia were bowled out for 47 in Cape Town. Oh for the days of such innocent problems. The Cape Town Test will be remembered for much darker reasons than a simple batting collapse, after Cameron Bancroft was caught sandpapering the ball in an attempt to gain reverse swing. The captain Steven Smith and vice-captain David Warner have been stripped of their leadership positions and banned for a year; Bancroft for nine months. Outrage has swept the nation. And now, the remaining Australia players have to go out in the middle and try to earn back a modicum of respect. To do so, they will have to show respect themselves. Respect for the game, respect for their opponents, respect for each other. The New Zealand team, once derided by the Australians for being too nice, are now the model, according to coach Darren Lehmann. Time will tell.
One of the most remarkable side-effects of the scandal is that Tim Paine will become Australia’s 46th Test captain. At the start of this summer, Paine was not even in the starting line-up for Tasmania. Then, when he was called in, it was not as wicketkeeper. Now, he is not only Australia’s Test wicketkeeper but also the national captain – at least in a temporary capacity, but very possibly for the foreseeable future as well. He will lead an Australia line-up with at least three changes, forced by the suspensions. Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw, who as recently as Tuesday were opening together for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield final in Brisbane, could find themselves doing so for Australia at the Wanderers on Friday. Peter Handscomb will presumably also join the batting order, with Glenn Maxwell also in the squad but less likely to play.
And for all of the carnage of the past few days, there is still a series to play for. The best Australia can do is draw the series 2-2, while South Africa have the chance to win their first home series against Australia since 1970. How both sides respond to the dramatic events will be fascinating. South Africa will also farewell one the country’s most prolific fast bowlers, Morne Morkel, who announced before the series that this would be his last. On the final day in Cape Town, he completed a nine-wicket match haul, his best in Test cricket, and described it as the highlight of his life. Rarely has any cricketing achievement earned such a description and yet been so comprehensively overshadowed.
South Africa WWLLW (last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Morne Morkel seems destined to forever be the forgotten man. In Cape Town, he became the fifth South African to reach 300 wickets in Tests, yet he couldn’t even make the side in the previous match. His performance at Newlands earned Morkel just the third Man-of-the-Match award in his 85-Test career, but was barely a sideshow compared to the ball-tampering crisis. Surely one of the nicest men in world cricket, and a tireless contributor for South Africa over more than a decade, Morkel deserves a send-off in which he is, for once, the centre of attention.
Frankly, who in Australia’s team is not in the spotlight? Tim Paine has the task of captaining Australia and bringing respect back to the baggy green. Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw, both former Test opening partners of David Warner, now find themselves replacing Warner and Bancroft, and the positions could be theirs for a long while. And as for Australia’s fast bowlers – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – will they gain reverse swing?
South Africa confirmed that they would field an unchanged XI.
South Africa 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Morne Morkel.
The suspensions of Smith, Warner and Bancroft mean Australia will make at least three changes. The likely scenario is that Burns and Renshaw will open, and Handscomb will slot into the middle order.
Australia (possible): 1 Joe Burns, 2 Matt Renshaw, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Peter Handscomb, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Tim Paine (capt, wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Josh Hazlewood.
Pitch and conditions
In January, the Wanderers pitch for the Test against India was rated poor by the ICC, due to excessively steep and unpredictable bounce and seam movement. Batting was hazardous, and after three days, the umpires even considered stopping the match. It will be fascinating then to see what sort of surface is served up for this Test. There has also been heavy rain in the lead-up to the match, which has not allowed for the best possible preparation, and a green tinge is expected.
Stats and trivia
Last time Australia played a Test with neither Smith nor Warner in the team was also in Johannesburg, in 2011
Paine becomes the fifth wicketkeeper to captain Australia in a Test, after Billy Murdoch, Jack Blackham, Barry Jarman and Adam Gilchrist
The Wanderers was the venue for then-teenager Pat Cummins’ famous Test debut in 2011, when he was named Man of the Match
“I want to be sitting here talking about Morne Morkel’s last Test match, or us a team on the verge of creating history. We are spending so much time talking about other stuff. This series has been so draining. We are feeling the blowout as well. I cannot imagine what it feels like in their dressing room.”
South Africa’s captain Faf du Plesiss.