Aussie dossier aimed at unsettling Proteas
Australia has drawn up a dossier of detailed plans to unsettle each of South Africa's batsmen, which include verbal aggression and short-pitched bowling designed to strip the Proteas of their No 1 ranking.
Mickey Arthur, the former South African coach who is now plotting his old team's demise, has used his intimate knowledge to arm Australia's ambitious pace attack with strategies to take down four of the world's top 10 batsmen.
The Australians have instructions to go hard at Hashim Amla, who has made 677 runs at 73.33 this year including a triple century against England, both verbally and with the ball. Amla is known for his placid nature but the Australian brains trust believes he is vulnerable to short balls that cramp his body.
There are also plans to attack the other top-order batsmen with high-class, short-pitched bowling, just as young pace star Pat Cummins, now injured, went after champion all-rounder Jacques Kallis in Johannesburg last November.
"We've done our homework on each of their players, a lot of homework on all their players. We've got very specific plans, the way we're going to bowl to a lot of their batsmen," said champion batsman and former captain Ricky Ponting.
"As a batting group, we've spoken long and hard about the way their bowlers will bowl to us as well. It's nice to know that stuff, and a bit of inside information from the coach is good, but at the end of the day it's about how we'll react on the field... You can have the best plans in the world and unless you can execute them it doesn't really matter."
The contents of the dossier include the strengths and weaknesses of the Proteas' anticipated XI for the first test.
On Amla it says: "We should look to get into his head and play a bit of a psychological war. We should also look to attack him with short-pitched bowling. Let's really go after him with some short-pitched stuff".
Kallis and JP Duminy would also be susceptible in the short ball, according to the document, while the South Africa captain Graeme Smith's vulnerability was in his footwork. "When Smith is not in form his feet don't move that much and he can be very susceptible to lbw. We should look to develop some doubts in his mind and get him lbw."
There are also detailed plans to limit the damage caused by the Proteas' fast bowlers Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, although the dossier concedes that regarding Steyn "it is almost impossible to pinpoint an area of weakness".
It adds, mirroring a comment made by Arthur this week: "But doesn't bowl as well to left-handers. Not sure why. Our left-handers should certainly be looking to score against him."
The Australian tip sheet is far more critical of the tall Morkel, saying "he can be a bit all over the place. We should look to test his ability to absorb pressure."
On Philander, who approaches this series with 63 test wickets at an average of 16, the dossier advises: "We must keep him out there on good batting wickets. He has been great with the new ball, but is pretty much untested coming back for third and fourth spells."
Ponting expected verbal fireworks, but denied the sledging would be preconceived.
"Those things happen in the heat of the battle."
"Our young quicks are dying to get out there and have a crack at especially some of their top order players. You can expect a lot of fireworks, you can expect some fireworks, and some of their top order can expect a lot of short balls as well, which is an area we think we can attack them," Ponting said.
"I don't see their batting line-up being any stronger than India's was last year and the attack we put out then will be very similar to what we put out [here] in conditions we know very well."
The attack that greets Smith, Amla, AB de Villiers and Kallis - all in the ICC's top-ten ranked test batsmen - could be the same as the one that shocked India at the MCG last December, though left-armer Mitchell Starc is also busting for a call-up. Smith's opening partner Alviro Pietersen is also among the top 10 runscorers this calendar year.
But there is a feeling inside the Australian dressing room that South Africa struggles to deliver killer blows in big moments, despite their No 1 status. Australia can regain the No 1 test ranking by winning the series.
"I don't spend any time in inside their dressing room, I don't know what makes them tick, and I don't know what makes them worried about big occasions in games. All I know is when we have played our best for long periods of time against South Africa, we've managed to have a lot of success," Ponting said.
"South Africa are deservedly the No 1 team in the world but the gap between them and us is not that great. When we were No.1 we knew we had everyone chasing us and South Africa are certainly going to know over the next few weeks that they've got a very good team chasing them and trying to take that No 1 mantle away."
Sydney Morning Herald