Relaxed Smith names first Test XI
Australia will field an unchanged XI for the first Test against South Africa from the one that crushed England by an innings at the SCG in the final act of the Magellan Ashes.
Australia’s menacing pace attack have come through intense practice and a three-day tour game in Benoni unscathed to unite for the fifth time in Tests, while vice-captain David Warner appears to have transitioned smoothly into Test match mode having spent less than a week in South Africa after leading the T20 unit to tri-series glory in New Zealand.
Smith spoke to the Australian media in Durban and was so relaxed in revealing the XI that some of the travelling journalists had yet to start their voice recorders let alone time to even ask the question before the skipper confirmed the news.
It was a sign of confidence, certainty and clarity from the Australian camp that they believe the side that won handsomely in Perth and Sydney earlier this summer can handle anything the Proteas and the Kingsmead pitch throws at them.
“I thought that they’d go with quite slow wickets or maybe green wickets,” Smith said. “One of the two.
“I didn’t think they’d have a great deal of pace.
“Looking at the (Kingsmead) wicket now a couple of days out, it looks like it could be quite slow, maybe not a great deal of carry.
“But I’m terrible at judging wickets, so it’s just about summing it up when we’re out there and adapting to whatever we’re dealt and identifying it quickly and making sure we’re doing everything we need to do on our feet quickly.
“The first Test match is so important, so you don’t want to be behind the eight ball early in this series.”
While the preparation time for the series opener was limited to just one warm-up match and a handful of full practice sessions, Smith said the two-week break he and the frontline trio of quicks were given to rest has been the most beneficial.
Smith said he was “very drained” after scoring a mountain of runs in the pressure cooker Ashes series and leading his country in following five match Gillette ODI Series that a flat Australia lost 4-1 to the point where he didn’t want to pick up his bat.
Which to Smith, who freely admits he just “loves batting”, was as about as rare as a conventionally swinging red ball in the recent Ashes.
But now the skipper, along with his frontline quicks Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are primed and ready for the opening Test.
“I think a week or two (away) actually just does a world of good to anyone,” Smith said.
“I know that when we landed here Starcy, for instance, was so happy the way the ball was coming out, he was swinging it and you could just see on their faces that they were a bit more refreshed and just ready to go.
“I feel like I’ve been batting well since we’ve been here.
“Hopefully I can stand up again and lead the boys and get myself in that zone again to have the success against a good bowling attack.
“Everyone is excited about this series, it’s going to be a cracker.”
In contrast, South Africa are yet to finalise their XI, with the main point of deliberation around the balance of the team.
The Proteas played five specialist bowlers in the three-Test series against India last month, with wicketkeeper batsman Quinton de Kock batting at No.6 and veteran seamer Vernon Philander one spot lower.
But there is a sense that against Australia’s well-rounded attack, the hosts will require greater batting depth, with the possibility of an allrounder – likely Theunis de Bruyn – coming in for a fast bowler.
Proteas opener Dean Elgar said on Tuesday he expected left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj to play a big part in the series, meaning boom rookie Lungi Ngidi could be the quick to miss out if the Proteas do decide to bolster their batting.
Should South Africa stick with five specialist bowlers, Smith says it gives Australia a chance to blow the home side away if they can get past their powerful middle order featuring names like Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis.
“If they have the same line-up as the India Test matches, I think it’s a very long tail,” Smith said.
“If you can get some early wickets and get into the middle order quickly you might be able to go through them.
“They’re a good side. It’s going to be exciting seeing both bowling attacks going at it.
“They’ve got some guys that bowl good pace and have good aggression like our guys do.
“I think it’s going to make for a really exciting series.”
Australia XI: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: 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, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5. Live coverage
Second Test St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13. Live coverage
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage