|There were calls for Ricky Ponting to be axed after the first Test, but the former captain has the backing of new skipper Michael Clarke [GALLO/GETTY]|
Australia face a selection dilemma ahead of the second and final Test against South Africa at the Wanderers Stadium starting on Thursday, although there are not many options for the touring team.
Australia collapsed to a humiliating 47 all out in their second innings in the first Test in Cape Town last week on the way to an eight-wicket defeat, leading to calls from Australia for major changes ahead of the team’s next series, at home against New Zealand.
Critics have called for the heads of former captain Ricky Ponting, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, but because of the composition of the touring party, only Johnson seems in danger of losing his place in Johannesburg.
Ponting, 36, has struggled for form over the past year. He made eight and nought in the first Test but both captain Michael Clarke and batting coach Justin Langer have backed him as a key player.
Ponting’s experience could be crucial, and he could now move back to the number three position he filled for most of his career following a back injury that forced Shaun Marsh to return home.
However, captain Michael Clarke said on Wednesday that Usman Khawaya would bat at number three in a straight swap for Marsh, with Ponting continuing at number four.
Haddin, 34, has also been out of form and was dismissed for five and nought in Cape Town, playing a particularly poor shot to be out in the second innings.
But he is the only wicketkeeper in the squad.
Johnson, who shone against South Africa in home and away series in 2008-09, has looked a shadow of the bowler he was then.
He conceded 87 runs in 16 overs in the first Test and his only wicket was almost in the nature of a consolation when Hashim Amla slashed him to gully when South Africa were only 14 runs short of victory.
(likely) Graeme Smith (capt), Jacques Rudolph, Hashim Amla,
(from) Michael Clarke (capt), Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes,
Promising teenage fast bowler Pat Cummins looks likely to start at the Wanderers and could replace Johnson, although fellow fast bowler Ryan Harris was a slight doubt after waking up “stiff and sore”, according to Clarke.
Opening batsmen Shane Watson and Phil Hughes both failed twice against South Africa’s potent fast bowling attack.
Watson is a certain choice because of his bowling, which was mainly responsible for South Africa tumbling to 96 all out in Cape Town, but Hughes did not look anything like the player who had an impressive debut series against South Africa three seasons ago.
Australia called up David Warner to replace Marsh and there might be a temptation to give the hard-hitting opening batsman a Test debut.
Clarke vowed after the first Test to select the best possible team for the Wanderers.
“If that means no changes, there will be no changes,” he said. “If it means four changes, I want the best 11 to win the Test.”
South Africa are unlikely to change a winning team and will go into the match confident of completing a first home series win against Australia in the post-isolation era.
The last time South Africa won at home against Australia was when a team led by Ali Bacher won all four Test matches in 1969-70.
Groundsman Chris Scott has promised a “good cricket pitch”, saying: “There’ll be pace and there’ll be bounce.”
Pace and bounce will suit South Africa’s world-class fast bowling pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, with the latter particularly well placed to take advantage of bounce.
Vernon Philander, who shared the new ball with Steyn and had an impressive debut, was praised by captain Graeme Smith for bringing control and “a bit of mettle” to the attack.
Despite winning convincingly in the end, South Africa also showed frailties, with Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher scoring 12 runs between them in the first innings.
Kallis was the only one of the quartet to bat in the second innings, scoring two not out before Smith hit the winning run.
Only Prince had played any recent first-class cricket before the first Test.