Match Preview – Australia vs South Africa, South Africa tour of Australia 2023, 3rd Test

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Another Sydney Test where the series is decided, but the advantage of the World Test Championship is that plenty remains at stake. For Australia they can, barring points deductions, secure a place in June’s final with victory at the SCG while South Africa need to win to keep their now slim hopes alive.
The last time South Africa played here, back in 2008-09, they were the side that arrived 2-0 up and Australia secured a consolation victory. It came in dramatic circumstances when Graeme Smith walked out with a broken hand to try and save the match and only narrowly failed when Mitchell Johnson got one through him with 10 balls remaining.

Can the result be reversed this time? It’s hard to believe it will be, given the gulf between the batting in the two sides. South Africa scrapped past 200 for the first time in eight innings in the final throes of the MCG Test. Their pace attack kept them in the World Test Championship, but their batting ultimately looks like costing them.

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However, Australia will have to make changes. Mitchell Starc is out with a broken middle finger – his second-innings bowling in Melbourne was herculean – but in many ways, the bigger loss is Cameron Green because of the balance he provides (his fifty, with a broken finger, was another huge effort ). The fact there have been many questions about the balance of Australia’s side weeks shows the impact of Green’s absence.

There has been talk of having an eye on India and the SCG surface may naturally allow Australia to go that way, but they do not want to take their eye off the ball with the final so close. Little moments, not just their overrate, cost them in the last cycle and they’ve also had problems taking 20 wickets on this ground in the last few years.

As has become tradition, this is also the Pink Test – the 15th, with South Africa having played in the first – where money is raised for the McGrath Foundation and the third day is dedicated to Glenn’s late wife, Jane, who died of breast cancer in 2008. The Pink Test has raised more than AU$17 million and the foundation now employs 193 breast care nurses with the aim of having 250 by 2025.

recent form

Australia WWWWL
(last five matches, most recent first) South Africa LLLLW

In the spotlight

Josh Hazlewood is confident in the pecking order of Australia’s pace bowlers remains intact, but it’s been a bad time for him to miss the best part of two home summers. Scott Boland’s barnstorming start to his Test career has left the selectors with some tough decisions to make when everyone is available. Hazlewood’s record of 217 wickets at 26.16 is outstanding, but with another subcontinent tour on the horizon, where only two frontline quicks are a possibility, plus an Ashes tour that appears tailor-made for Boland it would be an opportune time for a big test.
It’s been a tough few weeks for Dean Elgar. His team needed big runs from him but they haven’t materialized. Twice he has been caught down the leg side, but that isn’t all bad luck – it is clearly an area opposition bowlers feel they can dismiss him – and the first-innings run out at the MCG was self-inflicted at a vital moment . Some of his captaincy has also come under the spotlight although he did not have much to work with in Melbourne.

Lance Morris in action during a training session Getty Images

team news

Pat Cummins will often confirm an XI the day out from a game but was keeping his cards close to his chest this time. Ashton Agar would appear a strong chance of a first Test since 2017 but Lance Morris may have to wait for his debut. There is also a debate around four bowlers or five, but just two frontline quicks would appear a risk.
Australia (possible) 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Nathan Lyon, 10 Scott Boland, 11 Josh Hazlewood .

South Africa will have to make at least one change with Theunis de Bruyn having returned home. Rassie van der Dussen, who was dropped after the first Test, and Heinrich Klassen are the only batting options remaining. Elgar said he remained in favor of a five-bowler attack. Offspinner Simon Harmer will come into consideration.

South Africa (possible) 1 Dean Elgar (capt) 2 Sarel Erwee, 3 Rassie van der Dussen/Heinrich Klaasen, 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Khaya Zondo, 6 Kyle Verreynne, 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi/Simon Harmer

Pitch and conditions

SCG curator Adam Lewis compared the pitch to an SCG surface of 10 years ago and was excited about the potential return to the old characteristics. The Sheffield Shield surface when New South Wales played Western Australia in November turned. There are significant showers and thunderstorms forecast for the opening, but there is hope they will largely come in the evening. Further showers are possible during the match.

Stats and trivia

  • This will be the first test since The Oval in 2019 where Australia have not had Mitchell Starc

  • Australia head coach Andrew McDonald made his Test debut in the 2008-09 Test between the teams in Sydney

  • The last time Australia fielded two spinners at home was against Pakistan at the SCG in 2016-17

  • Usman Khawaja needs 33 runs for 4000 in Tests


“I think it’s a bit different to most Aussie wickets, especially with a couple of injuries. With Green in particular we have to dice it up a bit differently. But we’re pretty confident in our XI.”
Pat Cummins on a tricky selection
“We’ve also got a lot to play for with regards that final in June. That’s a massive incentive for us. We always want to play tough Test cricket and be a thorn in the side of the opposition and if we can disrupt Australia’s potential plans for that final, then it’s definitely part of the work in progress for this game.”
Dean Elgar on his New Year ambitions

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