Australia began the Qantas Tour of South Africa off in style with a five-wicket win over South Africa A in Benoni.
The three-day first-class fixture was the only warm-up match for the Australians ahead of Thursday's first Test in Durban, meaning every run, ball, wicket and catch was invaluable in acclimatising to the foreign conditions.
Below are the key takeaways from the clash as the Australians travel to Durban today with winning momentum on board.
Assistant coach Brad Haddin said catching could determine the winner of the Test series and the Australians made a near perfect start to the tour in the field. From Tim Paine behind the stumps to Usman Khawaja at gully, the slips cordon were faultless across three days at Willowmoore Park. Paine held on to a terrific one-handed diving effort early on day three, Steve Smith snaffled two sharp chances at second slip and Cameron Bancroft complemented his sharp work at bat-pad by holding on to two chances at third slip. Only Shaun Marsh's drop at mid-wicket – an extremely difficult chance after Smith dished up a long hop that was punished by left-hander Malusi Siboto – denied the tourists a perfect scorecard in the field.
Swing to win
Having come off a home Test summer where the ball stopped swinging before the first drinks break, the Australia pace attack were delighted to see the red Kookaburra ball swerve in the air upon arrival in South Africa. Early indications in the Wanderers nets were that the new ball would swing but to the Australians' surprise the movement through the air lasted long into each bowling innings during the three-day tour match. While Mitchell Starc is a noted swinger, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Marsh had the ball bending at certain stages, while Pat Cummins had both his outswinger and inswinger working. Australia's pace attack ran through England at home without a swinging ball; imagine what they could do to South Africa's line-up with a ball that does.
Bancroft bats time
While his place at the top of the order was backed by both his captain and coach, Bancroft would have taken plenty from spending some time at the crease in the tour match. Not only did the right-hander register the top score by a specialist Australia batsman – his 45 in the first innings – he was the only top-order player to spend more than 90 minutes at the crease, a feat he achieved twice in the match. That longevity in the middle bodes well for when he reunites with David Warner for the first Test after the vice-captain missed the tour game due to T20 International commitments in New Zealand. If Bancroft can be Warner's foil like he was in the Ashes and convert his starts then Australia will have a solid platform each innings.
Cummins the allrounder
We've known just how good a bowler Pat Cummins is, stretching back to his Test debut in Johannesburg more than six years ago, but the talented Penrith product is now showing his capabilities with the bat. In the Ashes he saved his country with crucial knocks batting at No.9 and in Benoni he was elevated one spot higher, above fellow quick Starc, and scored an unbeaten 59 that guided the visitors to a first innings lead. He hit 11 fours in that knock, with the best of the lot a cover drive that any of his batting peers would happily claim. Smith called him a "complete package" and at only 24 it's scary to think how good he'll be with some more international experience under his belt.
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Theunis de Bruyn, AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5
Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3