Australia go into the summer with their tails between their legs. After a return to the summit of Test cricket earlier in the year, the tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa turned sour.
Australia have a formidable recent record at home, however, the scheduling of matches this year will make it harder for Australia to defend that record.
South Africa arrived in Australia on a high after inflicting a 5-0 ODI series thrashing, but that shouldn’t have as much of an impact on the Test series as the Proteas players have been suggesting. It’s a different ball game over here as the players feel more at ease in conditions that they’re accustomed to.
More of an issue could be that the first Test of the summer is in Perth instead of Brisbane. Australia haven’t lost at the Gabba since 1988 and many a touring side has left Queensland demoralised and struggled to bounce back. South Africa have never won in Brisbane, yet this time they won’t have to play there.
Instead, the summer will start in Perth where South Africa are unbeaten having won twice there in three attempts. It is a pitch that will suit their fast bowling unit. The second match in Hobart should also give their bowlers something to work with if there is any cloud in the sky. If South Africa had been asked which venues they would like to play in, those two would have been near the top of the list.
The third Test is in Adelaide and although South Africa’s haven’t won there since their reintroduction to Test cricket, history might not matter much there as it will be a day/night match.
The Sri Lanka debacle shouldn’t have too much effect on the Australian players either- Australian teams have always struggled in Asia. There could be a hangover from that series but it won’t come until the tour of India next year.
South Africa’s recent Test form has also been patchy, having lost last summer at home to England before losing away in India. The only other matches since then have been a two Test series against New Zealand in August, which they won.
Both teams could be missing key players, with AB de Villiers ruled out and Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Starc fighting to be fit for the start of the series. The temptation for Australia could be to make changes to the Test side after the Sri Lanka tour, though hastiness should be avoided. Australia have only lost three series at home since West Indies beat them in 1992 and that shows that even when there have been struggles away throughout that period, Australia have remained incredibly strong at home.
Interestingly, two of those series defeats were against South Africa- the last two times the Proteas have toured. It promises to be a good, competitive series as it always is between the two sides.
The last time Australia lost a Test match at home was against South Africa, in Perth. The tone of the summer is often set in the first match and this time, away from the Gabba, it will be that little bit tougher for Australia.