Six months ago, this series looked very different. South Africa had beaten India to take top spot in the world rankings, whilst Australia had stumbled to a 3-0 series defeat in England. What a difference the intervening time has made and this is now the most hotly anticipated series of the first half of 2014.
South Africa will prove a very different test to the limpid England who succumbed so meekly during that most recent Ashes series. In Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander they boast the top ranked fast bowlers in the world, with Morne Morkel not far behind them. Australia have to hope that their own strike force of Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and the resurgent Mitchell Johnson stay fit, as their back ups are inexperienced and, with South Africa lacking a decent spinner of their own, the pitches are unlikely to assist Nathan Lyon – now without doubt the leading Aussie twirlyman – that much.
With the bat, Australia have to hope that Shane Watson continues to grow into the number three role and that Philip Hughes can make a better fist of his third chance at the team than he did in the first two, as otherwise the number six spot just vacated by George Bailey will be a real problem.
South Africa’s problem is how to fill the huge void left by the retirement of Jacques Kallis. The third highest run scorer of all time and arguably the best all rounder to ever play the game will be hard to replace. Faf du Plessis will step into his spot at four in the batting order, but the onus is going to be on the likes of Alviro Petersen to step up and produce more runs than they have done in the past, as there are no spaces for passengers in the Protea side now.
It is a measure of how far Australia have come that the favoured result for this series is a 1-1 draw (best priced at 5.0 with Bet365). However, the weather in South Africa at this time of year could play more of a factor and therefore the better bet is a 1-0 South African win, at betting odds of 11.0 in most places.