Australia have questions to answer in South Africa series

Steve Smith

Australia enter their Test series against South Africa with a point to prove following their whitewash defeat to the Proteas in their one-day matches. Faf du Plessis’ men triumphed by a 5-0 scoreline on home soil and will now look to take their good form into the longer format of the game Down Under.

The Baggy Greens have been solid in their Test matches since their defeat to England in the Ashes last year, bar their humiliating 3-0 reverse at the hands of Sri Lanka as they struggled to cope with the turning conditions.  However, Steve Smith’s men are extremely hard to beat at home, and are backed in the latest Bet365 betting odds at 4/6 to triumph over the Proteas.

The Aussie skipper remains one of the best batsmen in the world, and currently sits ahead of Joe Root, Kane Williamson, Younus Khan and South Africa’s Hashim Amla in the ICC rankings. He has been a model of consistency since his breakthrough towards the end of 2013, and has been the lynchpin of the Baggy Greens’ batting lineup since.

Smith will face his first stern challenge since the Ashes when he comes up against the Proteas’ attack, which is at full strength. Injuries have prevented Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel from playing together over the last 18 months, but now all three are back to health they provide their side with arguably the best pace attack in the game.

David Warner and Smith will be relishing the task, although Australia’s inexperienced middle order will come under scrutiny once again. Darren Lehmann and the selectors chopped and changed between batsmen with Usman Khawaja and Moises Henriques both seeing time in the line-up, although neither convinced against Sri Lanka.

Khawaja may get another chance in the team that could see him drop down the order from number three, while Chris Lynn could get a call into the squad to offer an alternative option. Questions marks remain over Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh, with the former perhaps guilty of a lack of consistency with huge scores mixed in between a lot of failures.

The 37-year-old will not be a long-term solution for the Aussies in the build-up for the Ashes next year, and another series of poor performances against a quality attack will raise eyebrows over his place in the line-up. Elsewhere Mitchell Marsh remains a lock at number six and has impressed with his bowling to ease the strain on the Baggy Greens’ pacemen, although he may have to contribute with the bat to avoid coming under pressure himself.

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Mitchell Starc was one of the few Australian players to emerge from the series in Sri Lanka with any credit for his displays. The 26-year-old was in excellent form, taking 24 wickets at an outstanding average of 15.16 as he made large strides in finally delivering on the potential he has displayed in the limited-overs format. Much will be expected of him to rip through the South Africa line-up, especially in the absence of star batsman AB de Villiers.

Josh Hazlewood struggled with the conditions in the Sub-continent, but has fared well over the course of his career and will be pleased to get back on home soil. The 25-year-old’s form has been patchy over the last year and Smith will want to see him become the reliable option that his early Test displays suggested that he could be.

It is a big series for a lot of Australia players and life will only get tougher when Pakistan arrive in the country later in the year. The Baggy Greens have a lot of questions to answer and with the Ashes just under a year away the selectors will want to resolve their issues as quickly as possible. A series win will appease that for now, but some players will have to produce sooner rather than later.