MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – An Australian team full of rookies will be pushed blinking into the spotlight of the day-night test in Adelaide facing a huge task to prevent South Africa from completing an unprecedented series sweep on their home soil.
Three uncapped batsmen and a recalled wicketkeeper will feature in Steven Smith’s side, after selectors swung the axe with ruthless abandon following the Hobart humiliation, which gave the touring side an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. No team has ever swept Australia on their own pitches in a series of three or more tests and the hosts can be expected to fight hard to restore pride under the lights of Adelaide Oval.
They will enjoy a slender advantage of experience with the pink ball, having beaten New Zealand in the first ever day-night test at the same ground 12 months ago.
But a year is a long time in cricket and South Africa’s rampaging attack is a far different beast to the off-colour bowlers who reported for duty for New Zealand.
Apart from a determination to whitewash Australia, South Africa bring a chip on their shoulder after their stand-in captain Faf du Plessis was hauled before an ICC hearing in Adelaide on Tuesday and found guilty of ball-tampering during the Hobart test.
Footage emerged last week of Du Plessis applying saliva to the ball with a lolly in his mouth and although he was cleared to play in Adelaide, the case and the accompanying media attention angered the South Africa camp. Their management complained of harassment from local journalists after a team security guard was involved in a physical confrontation with a TV journalist at Adelaide Airport on Monday. Australia’s pugnacious opener David Warner wasted little time fanning the flames.
“I just know from an Australian cricket perspective we hold our heads high and I’d be very disappointed if one of our team members did that and how they’re reacting,” he said of the airport clash on Tuesday.
Warner, having just turned 30, is suddenly the oldest and most experienced player in the team with 56 tests and one of only three specialist batsmen retained from the Hobart debacle. He will team up with a third opening partner in three matches in debutant Matt Renshaw, a Yorkshire-born, New Zealand-raised 20-year-old who has been fast-tracked into the side after 12 first-class matches. Victoria batsman Peter Handscomb and New South Wales left-hander Nic Maddinson are the other uncapped batsmen, with the abrasive Matthew Wade dislodging Peter Nevill behind the stumps.
In-form South Australia fast bowler Chadd Sayers could be a fourth debutant if he is preferred to Jackson Bird to replace the discarded Joe Mennie.
Worried about the pink ball wearing too quickly, ground staff prepared a grassy pitch last year and Australia closed out a bowler-dominated victory in three days.
The pink ball is still expected to hoop around during the evening sessions but curator Damian Hough has promised a fairer pitch for the batsmen after a number complained last year.