proteas in firing line

An opinion poll published on the weekend in Australia listed the four most discussed topics in the country four days ago as the state of the local economy, the collapse of a national child-minding agency, the Australian Golf Open at Royal Sydney and the Test series between Australia and South Africa.

An opinion poll published on the weekend in Australia listed the four most discussed topics in the country four days ago as the state of the local economy, the collapse of a national child-minding agency, the Australian Golf Open at Royal Sydney and the Test series between Australia and South Africa.

As a list of a nation's priorities, the poll certainly feels right, the immediacy of last weekend's golf (won by Tim Clark, a South African) pushing the cricket into fourth.

But the golf has come and gone and so when South Africa wakes up this morning they, exactly like a good portion of Australia, will feel that nothing matters quite much as the cricket.

South African hopes might even be slightly more pointed: having the Aussies three down at lunch, or Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie successfully seeing off the new ball wouldn't do half badly.

"In my opinion the boys are far more settled than they have ever been," said Graeme Smith yesterday.

The South Africans are well aware that Tests against Australia are the ultimate challenge. Precious few succeed here and fail to prosper anywhere else, the two exceptions to the rule in recent years being former England captain Michael Vaughan and possibly India's VVS Laxman.

One of the reasons why Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara are held in such high regard internationally is because they were consistently successful against the hard men of the baggy green.

Of the current squad Jacques Kallis is South Africa's most consistent batsman against Australia; next comes Ashwell Prince, after that comes Neil McKenzie. The rest, for all their success over the last while, have yet to arrive if the definition of arrival is scoring a Test ton against the Aussies.

It is strange, then, that it's the Proteas' most successful batsmen against Australia who probably have most to prove in Perth: Kallis and McKenzie haven't been in the best of nick, with the Lions opener finding himself stranded in that netherworld between good form and being out of it.

Kallis took 48 balls to reach double figures in the 50-over match against the Retravision Warriors last Thursday and while there were glimpses of his old self, he does not look as solidly dependable as he once did.

All this will pale into insignificance once the Test starts rolling.

What will have dwelt on the players' minds overnight will be the size of the task ahead, the magical aura of Test cricket against Australia, the wonder of it all. - Avusa Group Cricket Correspondent

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