About the Match
Just under a month ago, Australia were thrashed 5-0 by the Proteas in the white ball cricket. The two teams now move to Australia where they'll be battling it out albeit in the longest format of the game. The first match will be played at WACA Cricket Ground, Perth where the hosts will be looking to redeem themselves and take the early advantage. The visitors, too, will be looking to impose themselves and take charge of the things, just like they did in the ODI series. It will be for the first time in 20 years that the opening test of Aussie summer isn't played at The Gabba, Brisbane and the visitors couldn't be happier. The Proteas have never lost a Test at WACA; they drew in 2005 and won the tests in 2008 and 2012. Things have already started to heat up off the field with talks and mind-games underway, and it's going be a fierce battle on-field as well.
Although still completely fit, Mitchell Starc is expected to make a return and boost the bowling which was torn to pieces in the ODI series in South Africa. Joe Mennie has been included in the 12-men squad in place of Jackson Bird. Although the selection has raised a few eyebrows, it is yet to be seen if he gets a chance to play in final eleven.
Despite a listless performance in Sri Lanka and in South Africa, their batting lineup appears to be a formidible force. With Khawaja and Warner at the top and Steve Smith to follow, bowlers will have to be at their best right at the beginning. Middle-order looks a little weak as compared to the top order, but in the home conditions, Marsh brothers and Adam Voges can be dangerous players; they've proved it in the past as well.
Unless Australia decides to go with all-pace attack, which is very unlikely, three out of Josh Hazelwood, Mitch Starc, Peter Siddle and Joe Mennie will make up the bowling unit with Nathan Lyon expected to walk-in being the lone spinner. This Australian team looks far better on-paper than the team playing in colored clothing which we witnessed a month ago and the Proteas will have to be at their very best.
South Africa are placed fifth in the ICC Test rankings and will certainly want to rise up the ladder. Beginning their tour at perhaps their favorite venue in Australia, they will be looking to get off to a solid start. The conditions are similar to that of the Wanderers and they've done pretty well here historically.
The tourists will be playing without their batting stalwart, AB de Villiers. In addition to that, the Proteas have won only two of their last twelve games which says a lot about their form. However, they have tasted success recently: first against Kiwis in tests and then against Aussies in ODIs which will boost their confidence.
In the recently concluded tour match, their batting did fine as they scored just under 500 runs at a healthy scoring rate. Faf du Plessis and Deal Elgar scored a century each whereas QDK missed it by a run. Their bowling, however, wasn't as sharp as they failed to wrap rather inexperienced South Australian lineup. Dale Steyn didn't bowl and quite surprisingly, Keshav Maharaj was the pick of the bowlers. Overall, South Africa have the players in form, but their bowling would have to step up to dent Australia's chances of getting lead first-up.
Both the sides look pretty well balanced on paper. Australia's lineup is looking a lot stronger in assisting conditions with Starc back. South Africa, on the other hand, have batted beautifully over the past few months. The possibility of draw cannot be ruled out, but looking at the numbers, that are, just three draws in 21 matches over the span of 22 years, suggest a draw be pretty unlikely outcome. It is going to be an enticing battle between the bat and ball, but with South Africa having the momentum and WACA fortunes, they seem to be having a better prospects of winning this match.