The traditional summer test series of the Southern Hemisphere get underway tomorrow with Sri Lanka taking on Australia and New Zealand taking on South Africa. It is interesting to note that the top 4 bowlers in the ICC LG Top Test Bowlers list, namely Muralitharan, Makhaya Ntini, Shane Bond, and Stuart Clark would be involved in the action starting tomorrow. How these ratings change after the 2 tests in each series, would be interesting to note.
The Australia-Sri Lanka series holds significance for a couple of reasons. First and foremost lies the question of whether or not Muralitharan will be able to take the 9 wickets that he needs to surpass Shane Warne as the leading wicket taker in test cricket. The Aussies will be determined to deny Murali the record on their home soil. Even though I am a bigger fan of Warne, I think it will be extra sweet for Murali if he manages to get the record on Australian soil. I would love to see how the Aussie public and players react to that.
The other point of significance of this series is that Australia will enter a test match for the first time without Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, and Justin Langer. The debutant Mitchell Johnson, experienced Stuart McGill, and 2 test old Phil Jacques will be filling those big boots respectively and how they all fare is something to watch out for. While I expect the batting to hold together, it is not often that Australia have won a test without McGrath and Warne. I feel Australia's bowling is a lot weaker without the two greats - it leaves a gap of over 200 test matches and 1100 wickets in the Aussie bowling line up.
Even though Sangakkara will be missing tomorrow, I think the Lankans can give the Aussie bowlers a tough fight. Definitely a test match to watch!
The South Africa - New Zealand series hasn't created the same interest around the world especially with India-Pakistan and Australia-Sri Lanka going on at the same time. However, their match tomorrow holds tremendous significance for New Zealand cricket as they enter a new era under Daniel Vettori who will be playing his first test as New Zealand captain.
South Africa go into the match with the same XI that played in the 2nd test against Pakistan, which means that Shaun Pollock misses out on home turf as well. I remember seeing Pollock carry the drinks during the tests in Pak, and he might be doing the same come tomorrow and I don't see anyone make any hue and cry about that. Imagine the consequences had a Wasim Akram or a Waqar Younis or an Anil Kumble been told to do that - voices from all quarters would have been gunning for the selectors and the boards.
The South Africans have been talking about how excited they are looking at life after Pollock. I wonder why the subcontinental teams and fans can't look beyond their aging stars?
All the action begins in less than 24 hours. Stay tuned for updates and let me have your thoughts on the game too, right here on wellpitched.
My bets - Murali breaks the record and the Lankans go 1 up. The Kiwis hold the Africans to a fighting draw. 5 days from tomorrow and we will know.