Ricky Ponting will be hoping for a win in his farewell Test. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/AFP
With Ricky Ponting announcing his retirement on Test eve, it seems as though this three-Test series has had a bit of everything; everything except one of the teams registering a win. That should be rectified in Perth where just two of the last 18 Tests have finished in a draw . Australia has won the last three at the venue, but it did lose the previous two Tests there to India and South Africa .
The home side might be going ‘Back to the Future’ as it goes in search of a winning formula following South Africa’s staunch resistance in Adelaide. Inconsistent quick Mitchell Johnson is now almost certain to play, along with impressive young Blues pacemen Josh Hazlewood and Victoria’s John Hastings . They join 12th man for the first two Tests, Mitchell Starc , in the queue for fast bowling spots, with Michael Clarke stating Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus won't play due to fatigue. The only questions left now are whether Nathan Lyon will play, or do Clarke and coach Mickey Arthur go with a four-prong pace attack featuring two debutants?
Lyon has respectable figures so far in the series, although South Africa did give then Australian off-spinner Jason Krejza a touch-up when chasing 414 for victory in the last match between the teams at the WACA Ground, the second highest successful run chase in Test history. Perth has a reputation as being a graveyard for spinners, and Lyon may be left carrying the drinks as he did here last season against India. It could come down to whether they feel Shane Watson can get through enough overs to serve as a fourth paceman.
The intriguing selection here is Johnson, who has jaw-dropping figures from his Test appearances in Perth, which is now his home after moving from Queensland a couple of seasons back. In four Tests, he has taken 30 wickets at an average of just over 18, and his biggest haul came in late 2008 when he destroyed South Africa in the first innings with 8 for 61. Not long after that he roughed the Proteas up during a three-Test series in South Africa with some hostile bowling. The tourists may feel they have the edge over him now, though, after he was belted around the Wanderers in Johannesburg and Newlands in Cape Town on the 2011 tour, which were his last appearances for Australia in Test cricket.
Starc should be at the front of the queue after some highly impressive performances in Twenty20 and 50-over cricket in recent times. He is a far better bowler now than the slightly uptight and mechanical youngster who took his first nervous steps in to Test cricket against the touring Black Caps last season. He took four wickets against India at the WACA in 2011-12.
Watson will come in as a straight swap for Rob Quiney, who disappointingly registered a pair in Adelaide. Following his retirement announcement, Ricky Ponting has just one or two opportunities left to make a big score in Test cricket before he farewells the Australian team for good. Ponting's Test career started in Perth against Sri Lanka when he unluckily adjudged LBW when just four runs from a debut century.
Both Graeme Smith and AB De Villiers scored tons here when the Proteas lost just four wickets in reeling in Australia’s target of 414 during their last visit, while Jacques Rudolph scored a rearguard century to force a draw on the 2005/06 tour.
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