Nathan Lyon is confident of getting among the wickets in South Africa.
Nathan Lyon is confident of getting among the wickets in South Africa.

Take heed of speed but it could take spin to win

NORMALLY, a South Africa-Australia Test series is fast and furious.

This one may not play out at breakneck speed, but that's still unlikely to calm a frequently fierce contest.

Australia arrives with plenty of firepower for the battle, which starts on Thursday in Durban, and the presence of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood has South Africa feeling under threat on home ground.

 

Any other team and South Africa would happily serve up fast, bouncy tracks and allow its own pacemen to wreak havoc.

But the damage caused by Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood in Australia's Ashes rout of England has South Africa thinking again and possibly seeking slower surfaces for this series.

Enter Nathan Lyon.

Australia's Nathan Lyon bowls to an English batsman during the Boxing Day Test this year. AP Photo/Andy Brownbill
Australia's Nathan Lyon bowls to an English batsman during the Boxing Day Test this year. AP Photo/Andy Brownbill

Visiting spinners have a good record at Kingsmead in recent times. And they don't come any better than the Aussie tweaker at the moment.

Shane Warne inspired Australia's 2006 success with an eight-wicket match haul. Graeme Swann ripped through the South Africans in 2009, taking four wickets in the first innings and five key scalps in the second dig.

Harbhajan Singh took 4-10 in South Africa's first innings of the 2010 Test

Rangana Herath took nine wickets in Sri Lanka's 208-run win back in 2011. Moeen Ali grabbed seven wickets in a massive victory for the Poms a little over two years ago.

Lyon wasn't at his best in the warm-up victory against South Africa A but is confident he's a better bowler now than on his two previous visits to the republic in 2011 and 2014.

 

"I am very confident in my stock ball at the moment and in my consistency, so I am not going to be changing too much," Lyon said.

Steve Smith lines up for a nets session. Picture: AAP
Steve Smith lines up for a nets session. Picture: AAP

"It's going to be a great challenge for myself coming up against some of the best batters in the world. To be honest with you I think the best batsmen face me every day in the nets, bowling to Smithy (Steve Smith) every day, the number one batsman in the world, trying to take you down."

South Africa aren't devoid of a match-winning spinning option themselves.

Keshav Maharaj barely featured in the four-Test series against India as South Africa relied on pace. But from 16 Tests he has taken 57 wickets at an average 26.78.

The Aussies should be well versed with the 28-year-old's variations.

The left-armer made his Test debut in Perth at the end of 2016 and proved difficult to read. He took four wickets for the match - no mean feat for a spinner out west - including the prized wicket of Steve Smith for a duck leg before.

He was sparingly used in Hobart before being dropped for the Adelaide day-night Test.

But he took 15 wickets on the two-Test tour of New Zealand last year - including a career-best 6-40 in Wellington - before emerging as one of the bright lights on the disappointing tour of England.

South Africa opener Dean Elgar says the spinners could hold the key to the series.

 

"I think against Australia you potentially need to slow the game down, which they probably aren't used to. So a guy like Keshav has played well against them in the past, so he'll play a big part in the series," Elgar said.

"I think either way the spinners are going to have an influence in the Tests, even if it's holding up an end or trying to be attacking, which some surfaces might allow.

"It is a bit of a battle of the seamers, but there is a world-class spinner in both sides, so it's going to be exciting Test cricket."


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