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South Africa v Australia: The 3 main questions


South Africa will aim to bounce back and level the series in the 2nd Test
 

1) Is Mitchell Johnson's last six Tests the greatest sustainedperiod of fast bowling you've ever seen?

Emotional scarring from years of watching Mitchell Johnson hasnttotally healed. The trauma may never totally evaporate. Its theonly explanation for my pessimism. I keep expecting the bad oldMercurial (maniac?) Mitch to reappear.

Maybe, just maybe, that Mitchell Johnson is now anapparition. Temperamental. Wayward. Highly-sensitive. Fragile.Mentally weak. The Barmy Armys whipping boy. It used to be so veryeasy to slander Johnson.

His international career appeared over with the emergence of abevy of precocious Aussie quicks, combined with copping the dreadedinjury scourge and the selectors seemingly belated decision tousher in a new generation.

Raise your hand if you foresaw this chapter of redemption?

(Dont lie, hands down)

In the space of 10 weeks, Johnson has gone from the abovementioned punch line to the most devastating fast bowler imaginable.Hes captivated a country. Actually, hes enthralled the wholecricket world.

Hes become event television. Hes an icon.

Ive never seen anything like it. Before he even bowls a ball,he has the opposition spooked. Actually, theyre petrified. And Idont blame them. Its hard not to be scared when your life maybe balancing on a tightrope.

Some of the best batsmen of the modern era, heck in test history,have had their egos, bats, bodies and reputations destroyed by the Moduring his prolonged purple patch. Cook, Bell, KP, Smith and Amlahave had no answers. Only AB de Villiers, enhancing his claim as theworlds best bat in the process, has been able to resist Johnsonshostility, with a fusion of courage, technique and audaciousshot-making. Clearly, AB is an alien.

Honestly, after Brisbane I rolled my eyes at the Johnsonredemption narrative. After all, we had been down thisfrustrating road before (insert Perth 2008 or Perth 2010) when herediscovered magical powers. Ultimately, it was fleeting.

Five tests after Brisbane, Johnson is still sizzling, making theball not only talk, but making it appear a hand grenade.

Johnsons past six tests 49 wickets at 13, with a wicketevery 27 balls. Impressive stats, but they only tell a fraction ofthe story.

Its not a stretch of hyperbole to say this is the greatestperiod of sustained bowling in cricket history. The records probablydont back this up. No doubt Murali has taken more wickets in asimilar timespan, stockpiling scalps on dustbowls against Zimbabwe orBangladesh most likely.

Records dont really matter, its what resonates in the memorythat counts. Changing the cricket landscape is important too.

Just months after being derided as arguably Australias worstever test team after atrocities in India and England MichaelClarkes men are on the brink of being the best team in the world.Its hard to begrudge them of this lofty status if they deliverconsecutive whitewashes against previous powerhouses England and mostnotably South Africa on their home terrain.

And the whirlwind transformation can be largely attributed toJohnson.

The most hostile and intimidating bowling Ive seen was CurtlyAmbroses annihilation of Australia during the final two tests ofthe 1992-93 series one of the best series played in the past 30years, made memorable for the emergence of Brian Lara and ShaneWarne.

But it was Ambroses series, notably his 19 wickets in Adelaideand Perth to ensure the Windies continue their then 12-year unbeatenrecord of not losing a series. He single-handedly defeated a superiorAustralian team, which boasted a strong batting line-up Taylor,Boon, Border, the Waughs and a young Damien Martyn.

Mitch has replicated Curtlys deeds, only in a nastier andprolonged fashion.

Mitch Johnson turns 33 years old this year. Its an age wherequicks start winding down. Inevitably, his magical powers willdisappear and hell fade away into the wilderness.

When that sad day eventuates, cricket will be slightly more staid.

So, Im going to savour every Mitchell Johnson delivery. I hopeyou do too.

2) Australia has not lost in South Africa since readmission.Even in recent defeats at home, Australia have been hugelycompetitive against superior South African sides. Why does Australiaappear to always have a mental hold on SA?

Its easy to hark back to the World Cup in1999 and remember Steve Waughs memorable sledge/century, ShaneWarnes magic and the implosion of Klusener/Donald.

The back-to-back Australian miracles haunted South Africa for ageneration of players. But in the summer of 2008-09, with both teamsbrimming with a new breed of players, South Africa finally conqueredtheir Australian demons.

They won in Australia and a belated domination of their rival wasexpected to ensue. They had moulded a team to dominate, whileAustralia was in the painful grips of a rebuild.

Expected domination didnt happen for South Africa. Australia,led by a menacing Mitch Johnson (sound familiar?) won a few monthslater in South Africa.

Two years later, a clearly inferior Australian side somehow drew atwo-test affair in South Africa. Only a diabolical batting implosion 47!!! during the First Test cost Australia a memorable seriesvictory.

In late 2012, South Africa once again won in Australia. I hate thehackneyed clichd morale victory but its apt in describingAustralia during that memorable series. Australia had the better ofthe draws in Brisbane and Adelaide, with the latter a golden missedopportunity to claim the series lead.

Depleted by injury, coupled with a mo-less Mitch, and Amla and ABbatting as if they were on the Nullarbor, South Africa destroyedAustralia at the WACA to win the series.

South Africa dodged an Australian bullet. They dont seemfortunate to escape the Australian missiles, triggered by Johnson, onthis occasion.

They have always enjoyed exposing South Africas fragilities. Itprovides them with a fillip and forces South Africa to revert back totheir innate conservatism, consigning them to tiptoe on the tightropeof vulnerability.

Australias stranglehold of South Africa appears set tocontinue, yet again.


3) Will Australia whitewash the series?

Its folly to dismiss South Africa, a team brimming with some ofthe most brilliant cricketers of the modern age. But the gaping holeof Jacques Kallis has left South Africa susceptible. And MitchJohnsons brilliance has exposed the vulnerability.

Look, the series can turn sharply. Its not hard to imagineAustralias still shaky batting being skittled by Steyn andPhilander at some point.

Smith appears to have followed a similar cruel fate to hiscounterpart Alastair Cook. He looks a dead man walking. Amlasgolden touch has deserted him. Too much onus rests on ABsshoulder. The burden is too heavy.

South Africas imposing team suddenly looks brittle.

I cant believe Australia are on the verge of an eight-testwinning streak.

This ungainly and mishmash Australian team are about to achievethe seemingly impossible. They will be crowned tests best once again.