Crisis-torn Australia will attempt to prevent rampant South Africa from an unprecedented series clean sweep in Thursday’s day-night third Test in Adelaide after a team shake-up of historic proportions.
Stung by two humiliating defeats in Perth and Hobart, the Aussies have made six changes in a bid to stop the rot and fight off the Proteas’ quest to become the first touring team to sweep a series in Australia.
It is a seismic selection switch in the wake of last week’s sudden resignation of chairman of selectors Rod Marsh and intensifying pressure on the game’s top officials and coach Darren Lehmann.
Not since only two players from the fifth Test against England in August 1977 made it into the team for the first Test against India three months later, after World Series Cricket rebelled against the establishment, has there been such a clean-out of the Australian side.
The last time there were as many as five changes mid-season – which is likely given either pacemen Jackson Bird or Chadd Sayers is likely to be 12th man in Adelaide – was in the 1977-78 series against India after an innings defeat in Sydney.
Selectors, with Trevor Hohns taking over from Marsh as interim chairman, named three young batsmen – English-born Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson – to make their debuts and recalled Sayers, Bird and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade.
It was a decisive and drastic intervention by the under-fire selection panel in the wake of Australia’s fifth straight heavy Test defeat, including the 3-0 series drubbing in Sri Lanka last August.
“I’m not for one minute going to suggest an immediate turnaround,” Hohns said.
“Patience will be required but we are obviously hopeful that these players can gel together and ultimately stop the downward losing momentum we are currently experiencing.
“It’s no secret that our Test team has not functioned or performed to the level we expect.
“We accept that a lot of the criticism that has come our way has been warranted, however, I ask that everybody take a deep breath and get behind these blokes in what is going to be a very testing time for them.”
The reinforcements will be aiming to bolster Australia’s insipid batting, which was routed for 85 by South Africa in Hobart after suffering a humiliating 10 for 86 collapse in the first innings at Perth.
Lehmann said it was important he and fellow coaches instil confidence and positivity in the new-look squad.
“I’ve never seen a side so hurt after Hobart, an Australian side. We’ve got to pick them up, get them positive,” he said.
South Africa have problems of their own with skipper Faf du Plessis facing an ICC charge of ball tampering in the Hobart Test.
Du Plessis, who was fined 50 percent of his match fee in 2013 for ball tampering in the second Test against Pakistan, has pleaded not guilty but could face a one-match ban, which may force him out of the Adelaide match.
Heightening tensions ahead of the game, South African security staff shoved an Australian television reporter up against a glass door as he attempted to interview du Plessis at Adelaide airport on Monday, with the team accusing the media of “harassment”.
Despite this, the South Africans, with their pace trio Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott dominating the Australian batting, will fancy their chances bowling with the pink ball in swinging conditions under lights at Adelaide Oval.
It will be only the second day-night Test in Australia after the home side thrillingly beat New Zealand by three wickets on only the third day in Adelaide last year.