The Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) is no stranger to dead rubbers. Australia’s steady domination at home and SCG hosting the last Test of the series more often than not have led to many Tests with the series already decided. On occasions, the home side has gone into these SCG Tests so dominant, the relevance of the contest is reduced to just another Test at an iconic venue.
There was a similar aura around the SCG Test at the same time last year. England, after getting hammered by the hosts in the first three Tests, just managed to hold on to a draw. That is the only Test Australia didn’t win at home in 2022. The margin of victories since then: 146 runs, 164 runs, 419 runs, 6 wickets and an innings & 182 runs.
You can sense how Australia have decimated the opposition all year. South Africa were supposed to pose some challenge to the Aussies but none of the first two Tests have gotten anywhere close to Day 5. The gulf between the two batting line-ups (Australia averages 37.6 with the bat this series while South Africa only 16.1) gives this Test match the feeling of a mere formality.
For Australia, this Test match is a look ahead to their next Test assignment in India. SCG is one of the drier pitches Down Under which brings spin into play more than any other venue. Since 2018, the spinners have picked 38.2% of wickets here, the highest proportion at an Australian venue. The pitch curator has already hinted at a traditional SCG wicket in store for this Test.
Pat Cummins, the Australian skipper, has addressed the same, owing to the conditions. "It's [SCG pitch], a huge connection to India. Fast bowling and reverse swing are going to come into it, which we can expect in India. Probably get more spin overs here, our batters are probably going to face more spin here as well. So it's a really good connection,” Cummins said.
Australia are eyeing to field two frontline spinners, with Ashton Agar, the spin-bowling all-rounder, most likely to replace the injured seamer Cameron Green. It will change Australia’s combination as it is the first Test Green will miss since his debut in December 2020. There is no Mitchell Starc as well, another fast bowling resource out due to a broken finger. However, that doesn’t disrupt Australia’s combination with Josh Hazlewood ready to step in after the injury layoff.
Australia’s Likely XI:
David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins ( c ), Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland, Josh Hazlewood
For South Africa, a traditional SCG pitch offers a pleasant change. At 24.1, they had the second lowest batting average in Tests in 2022 but fared much better against spin at 31.5 runs per wicket. At SCG, the ball won’t hoop around as much nor will rise at uncomfortable heights. It could be their chance to bat a lot longer than their average of 57 overs per innings across their previous eight innings. Having said that, it will still be a challenge to negotiate Nathan Lyon on a turning pitch. Lyon has bowled the second most overs by a bowler at this venue.
With the ball, Keshav Maharaj can have something going for him in this series where he has been carted for 152 runs without a wicket.
Like Australia, South Africa also have a forced change in store. Theunis de Bruyn, who replaced Rassie van der Dussen in the second Test, has flown back home for the birth of his child. South Africa can bring van der Dussen back or hand Heinrich Klaasen his second Test, after a sole Test cap in October, 2019. Both batters are known to be quite good against spin.
The Protea unit also have the option of playing two spinners. Simon Harmer is expected to come in for Lungi Ngidi in that case. Harmer will also deepen South Africa’s batting resources a little.
South Africa’s Likely XI:
Dean Elgar ( c ), Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen/Heinrich Klaasen, Temba Bavuma, Khaya Zondo, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi/Simon Harmer
WTC significance: A win for Australia will all but secure a place in the World Test Championship final. South Africa started of well in the race but have plummeted since the Lord’s win in August last year. If they do manage to turn things around in Sydney, their chances will still be hanging by a thin thread.