Australia are expected to go with a spinner in Nathan Lyon in the opening Test against South Africa starting on Friday, November 9. The inclusion of Lyon means the selectors will have the tough task of deciding between the in-form Mitchell Starc – an overs-limit specialist who was the Player of the tournament in the just-concluded T20 Champions League – and the out-of-form Ben Hilfenhaus, a bowler for the conventional format. Starc brings variety to the attack because he is left-armed, while Hilfenhaus brings in experience. With Peter Siddle the only other bowler with more than 20 Tests behind him, the selectors may opt for the more experienced Hilfenhaus.
South Africa may also include a spinner, with three pace bowlers in Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, and Vernon Philander being automatic choices. South Africa will have to decide between Robin Petersen and Imran Tahir to take over the mantle of spin. While Tahir has a great First-class record and is something of an unknown to Australia, his Test bowling average of 40.19 leaves a lot to be desired. Petersen, on the other hand, adds depth to the batting, though his Test record is pretty ordinary.
If the tour management decides on an all-pace attack, Rory Kleinveldt will be the fourth choice. But that’s unlikely to happen.
South Africa will probably go with JP Duminy, in spite of an ordinary record, largely because he did so well in Australia last time.
Brisbane, in the past, had a "bit in it for everyone", with quality spinners able to extract something from it, but in recent times it has increasingly started to resemble the WACA to become a pace bowler's paradise. Perhaps that is more to do with the lack of quality spinners in the Australian domestic line-up.
Players to watch for
Ricky Ponting is back in rip-roaring form, having just scored 160 not out in a First-class match. If he can translate that form in the Tests, then it could make a huge difference not just to his ability to stay in the side but to Australia's chances of victory. Of all the batsmen in the Australian team, he is probably in the best form.
Matthew Wade will be under huge pressure after an avalanche of talk about his place in the team. Captain Michael Clarke and vice-captain Shane Watson have openly said that they preferred Brad Haddin, which clearly puts Wade under pressure. Wade was the only century maker in the recent Test series in West Indies and is in good form, but he now has to perform under intense pressure or perish to make way for Haddin.
Watson is in unbelievable form in all formats and with both bat and ball. But the form has been largely in the overs-limit format. He now has to translate that form into Test matches. He is the one player who could make a difference between the two sides.
Philander is in amazing form, taking a jaw-dropping 63 wickets in his first 10 Tests at a bowling average of 15.96! He has an air of immortality about him. If he can sustain that, South Africa would be very hard to beat.
Steyn was the No 1 bowler in the world, and by quite a margin, following the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. He is always at the batsmen with sustained intimidation. With the rise of Philander, Steyn has taken back seat somewhat. Even if Philander falls apart, Steyn is still good enough to win it by himself.
Hashim Amla was incredibly unlucky not to win the ICC player of the year award. Had he not missed half the year through injury, he would have probably ensured that the award was his. He is just about unstoppable in all three formats. He can bat forever, can lift the side out of any disaster and is a real game changer.
The team line ups look quite similar. Australia's biggest weakness looks to be Ed Cowan. Lyon could prove to be a weakness as well, as could Hilfenhaus. South Africa’s weak points are Duminy, Petersen, Rudolph and whoever they choose as a spinner.
South Africa have a better top three bowlers, but not by much. James Pattinson averages 18 in Test cricket and isn't so far behind Philander. Starc isn't far behind, though he hasn't translated that into Tests as yet.
Australia probably have a stronger batting line up than South Africa - in spite of Cowan. But South Africa's bowling is overall ahead - especially if, heaven forbid, Starc misses out. There isn't much in it in either sense and even the wicket keeping is fairly tight, with de Villiers not far behind Wade purely as a keeper, but quite a distance ahead as a batsman. I still think that Quinton de Kock should be playing as the keeper!
At the end of the day, the Test is in Brisbane, where Australia never lose. But this South African side could well defy the odds. It looks unlikely to be a draw - unless rain intervenes. But which way it will swing is anybody's guess. I have South Africa ahead - just. But so many tiny things could happen to give it to Australia.
Certainly, Australia will have to be at their absolute best to win - and at least two or three players will have to play out of their skin to get them over the line. But in a tight contest, I will go with Australia.
(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket - from Tests, ODIs, T20 - at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)