South Africa are not going to follow Graeme Smith’s lead and dismiss Australia as being low on confidence. In fact, they are bracing for a backlash from the wounded hosts.
“If he has said that I’m sure that’s just his personal dig,” South Africa’s opening batsman Dean Elgar said. “I don’t think there is a culture issue within the Australian side. We know they’re still a dangerous team and they can bounce back in the second Test.”
Asked whether he thinks Australia have lost some of their bite, Elgar would not be drawn into a slanging match. “Yes and no. We know that the Australian side is still a very dangerous side. Them being beaten in the first Test is working in their favour because they can bounce back, and we’re aware of their bouncebackability. It’s just human nature to withdraw into yourself because of what you’re going through. But they can bounce back hard.”
To that end, South Africa are spending the build-up being drilled hard both in the nets and in the analysis room. “Complacency is a big thing for us,” Elgar said. “That’s something we’ve addressed as a team. It’s a new Test, a new challenge and a new venue for us.”
South Africa have never played a Test in Hobart before, and the last of their five ODIs at this venue was in 2009. Of the current squad, only Hashim Amla and JP Duminy played in that match, while batting and bowling consultant Neil McKenzie and Charl Langeveldt were part of previous ODI teams at Bellerive Oval. They won’t be able to draw too much from that but have be trawling through the scorecards of previous matches to try and gauge what awaits.
The last two Tests have seen Australia post big scores in the first innings against West Indies and Sri Lanka but the one before that was a low-scoring thriller against New Zealand. The pace and bounce of the WACA is a thing of the past but there may still be plenty for the bowlers. Two days before the Test, the pitch was a violent shade of green but much of that grass will be shaved off. What won’t change is the overhanging cloud, at least not for the rest of this week. There will be swing on offer and for South Africa, that may also mean reverse-swing.
Josh Hazlewood commented on how effectively South Africa managed to get the ball to reverse in Perth, much to Australia’s envy, and Elgar was sure they would try to do it again. “It is an asset for us if the ball can reverse but also, for a bowler to be able to bowl with the reversing ball is a massive skill,” Elgar said. “We’re fortunate if that most if not all of our bowlers can bowl with the reversing ball, which works in our favour quite nicely. In Perth the ball reversed in both innings for us when we were bowling and it proved to be a massive asset for us.”
Elgar maintained that South Africa’s working of the ball does not venture into troublesome territory, even though Hazlewood had noticed their habit of throwing the ball onto the pitch to scuff it up. “We’re trying to throw it into the turf and scuff one side up,” Elgar said “They’re pretty well drilled on it and get that side nice and rough and the other one shiny.”
But it is “not a deliberate tactic”, according to Elgar. “When you’re on the boundary, there are rules that you are allowed to bounce a ball in from the boundary,” he said. “All teams around the world use that tactic these days. If you are allowed to use it to your advantage all teams are welcome to do it. But obviously within the rules and regulations of the game.”
Those are things Smith, who retired more than two years ago, does not have to think about anymore and it’s allowed him to say some of the things he may have been thinking in his playing days. Smith spoke about Australia being a country where you had to earn respect as a player and you could only do that through performance. That’s what South Africa did in Perth and hope to continue in Hobart, but Elgar would prefer they didn’t make too much of a big noise about it.
“Having a lot guys put up their hands and make a big play for the team is very important to us,” Elgar said. “It’s very important for us to have those different kinds of players in the team. We don’t talk about it at all. It just comes out naturally.”
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent