Of the 8 innings in that previous series, only two were above 300 and South Africa’s 339 all out in the second innings at the Wanderers (where Australia levelled the rubber) was the highest total.
Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin scored a match-winning half-century to win that thrilling second Test and he said on Monday that his approach in this series would be to “get them before they get you” … in other words, the feisty veteran is not going to hang around, he’ll be trying to score quickly before the inevitable ball that dismisses him comes along.
But Hashim Amla was the most successful batsman in that series with centuries at both Newlands and the Wanderers, and he was typically unruffled on Monday by all the talk about a bowling shootout and batsmen having to hit out before they get out.
“Conditions will be the deciding factor, but regardless of those, I will try and occupy the crease, that’s the best way to score runs. Both teams are quite attacking, but it’s impossible to say what the pitch will be like until the game starts,” Amla said.
The Bearded Wonder is probably at the other end of the scale to Australian batsmen like Haddin and David Warner when it comes to batting. That pair are both extremely aggressive in their approach, while the likes of Michael Clarke and Steven Smith can be described as very positive; it is only opener Chris Rogers who has shown the propensity for patience that Amla epitomises.
And with an Australian attack that is bound to be a handful on what is expected to be a helpful surface at SuperSport Park, South Africa seem to be banking on grinding out runs with captain Graeme Smith stating that “batting ugly” normally wins the day here at home.
There is even more focus on Amla now as the banker in the batting line-up with the retirement of Jacques Kallis, but he was, again, unfazed.
“Nobody can replace Jacques and I don’t feel like I’m any more of a senior batsman now. Sure, the team does have a different dynamic now, a different flavour, but there was a contingency plan because we knew the day was going to come when Jacques retired.
“The way Faf du Plessis has fitted in in exceptional circumstances means we hope he can slot in again and do his thing. We all believe he can, he’s proven he’s a world-class performer,” Amla said.
With Du Plessis almost certain to replace Kallis at number four in the batting order, the only unknown when South Africa announce their XI at the toss on Wednesday morning will be who comes in lower down the list as the all-rounder.
When the Proteas played their warm-up match last week at the Wanderers, Ryan McLaren seemed the steadier, more likely option. Wayne Parnell was more threatening with the ball but also more expensive, while Rory Kleinveldt was impressive with the ball but is not as consistent a batsman as McLaren.
If bowlers hold as much sway as they are expected to, then South Africa will surely want the better batsman amongst their all-rounders.
That being said, Amla was full of confidence that they could handle the Australian attack, however dismally the soft English batting line-up fared against them.
“We’ve played against Australia a lot and against the same bowling attack, and we’ve had success against them. We don’t think there are too many big issues,” he said.
Australia, who have lost their number three batsman in Shane Watson to injury for the first Test, continue to talk up their bowlers, but there is less confidence when it comes to their batting.
“We had a really good hit out on the Johannesburg centre wicket against our own bowlers but it was very uncomfortable at times, I was petrified!” Haddin said.
“The obvious challenge is going to be the first innings, when big runs are very important.”
Haddin saw South Africa as the favourites and whether Australia’s all-out approach can rattle them remains to be seen against the bowling attack that has most consistently applied the strangulation method in the last four years, not just the last six months.
The typical Aussie brashness was not there when Haddin said “South Africa are number one for a reason, they’ve played consistent cricket over a long period of time. They deserve the tag as favourites, but you play Test cricket to test yourself. We hope they’re not too good.”