Qantas Tour of South Africa
Starc tips pitch change if Rabada absent
Australia quick believes absence of Proteas spearhead could result in more seam-friendly conditions for third and fourth Test
16 March 2018, 05:43 PM AEST
The potential absence of South Africa's star fast bowler Kagiso Rabada from the remainder of the Test series against Australia is tipped to not only change the look of the Proteas' line-up, but the nature of the pitches on which the final two matches are played.
Australia's pace spearhead Mitchell Starc has claimed that the prospect of Rabada sitting out the second half of the Qantas Tour to South Africa after being found guilty of disciplinary breaches during last week's Test in Port Elizabeth will prompt a change of thinking from local curators.
The first two Tests at Durban and Port Elizabeth have been played on dry, coarse surfaces that have seen reverse swing become a decisive factor.
Particularly in the hands of Rabada, whose ability to swing the new and old ball into or away from Australia's batters has seen him claim 15 wickets at 16.80 in the series, and reclaim the title of world's top-ranked bowler in the process.
But with the number of demerit points that he's accumulated for breaches of the ICC Code of Conduct resulting in him being hit with a two-Test suspension, Starc believes the pitches for the upcoming Tests at Cape Town and Johannesburg will reveal a softer, greener character.
The Australia strike bowler suggested that would enable South Africa seamers Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel (who is expected to replace Rabada in the starting XI) to extract maximum benefit.
Cricket South Africa has confirmed it will challenge Rabada's penalty, with the ICC to appoint a judicial commissioner who can adjudicate on the appeal, with that hearing and its finding to be completed within seven days.
But with history suggesting that the 22-year-old remains an outside chance to emerge from that process with his ban overturned, the Australians are preparing for a markedly different pitch when they arrive at Newlands for their first training session next week.
And Starc believes that any moves by South African ground staff to produce seaming tracks at Newlands and Wanderers will suit his fellow Australia fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
"Now, with Rabada out, conditions might change and the wickets might be a little bit different for the last two (Tests)," the left-arm quick said.
"If Rabada's not playing, there might be a little more sideways movement with the newer ball for someone like Philander or Morne (Morkel), which obviously brings Josh or Pat into the mix as well.
"With the way Josh hits that seam and gets movement that way, and Patty's going to keep thumping them in there and attacking them and being very aggressive, I think we've got an attack that is pretty well rounded and complement each other really well.
"We're just going to have to adapt to the conditions that are put in front of us.
"But they (pitches) could change away from that – the reverse swing – without Rabada there."
It's not just a change in pitch characteristics that will require an alteration in Australia's bowling plans.
In the wake of AB de Villiers' game-changing century in South Africa's first innings at Port Elizabeth last weekend, Starc has revealed that his bowling group has discussed plans to reduce the former Proteas skipper's influence.
Starc claimed de Villiers stood out as the only rival batter to cause the tourists major concerns, and the 34-year-old's capacity to play unorthodox shots that unsettle bowlers' plans and thinking might, in turn, require some equally left-field thinking.
"We feel we're pretty comfortable against the rest of their batting line-up. I think we showed in the first Test (at Durban) how quickly we can go through them," Starc said.
"But he (de Villiers) has been the lynchpin for them.
"We've had some lengthy discussions about some plans to him, things we might have to change, but he's only human, and going forward there's no doubt we can get him out.
"He seems to be able to play a couple of different shots to the same length ball, so your margin for error is a lot less to someone like him.
"So you've got to think outside the box a lot more with him.
"A good ball's still a good ball to any batter in world cricket, it's just bowling them more consistently, changing the field a little bit and maybe cutting off a couple of scoring areas for him as well.
"That's one thing we didn't do well enough to him in the first innings (in Durban), we didn't bowl enough good balls.
"He's allowed to play good cricket shots, but I think we didn't bowl that really good ball consistently enough to him to build a bit of extra pressure on him and make him play the false shot.
"It's something we've spoken about as a bowling group and as a team, and hopefully that starts in Cape Town and we can get him out fairly cheaply."
One ploy that Starc, player of the match in the first Test at Kingsmead and Australia's leading wicket-taker for the series to date with 10 at 23.40, seems unlikely to revisit is bowling wide outside de Villiers' leg stump in order to restrict his scoring options.
The tactic was used at the insistence of Australia captain Steve Smith in a bid to starve de Villiers of the strike as he added valuable runs with South Africa's tailenders on the third morning in Port Elizabeth, and Starc initially seemed reluctant to implement it.
"I can't say I was too happy with that," he noted with a smile.
"But look, if the captain tells me to do something I'm going to do it, aren't I?"
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 Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard
Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard
Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26. Live coverage
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage