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Six keys to the upcoming Test series

AAP logoAAP 30/10/2016 Rob Forsaith

WHERE AUSTRALIA'S THREE-TEST SERIES AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA WILL BE WON:

CAN AUSTRALIA'S QUICKS STAY FIT AND HEALTHY? James Pattinson, Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile are no chance of playing Test cricket this summer, meaning Australia's pace stocks will be seriously tested if Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood break down. South Africa no longer boast the world's best batting order, especially with AB de Villiers unavailable because of injury, but they will be a lot more threatening if Starc and/or Hazlewood are out of action.

HOW MUCH WILL THE HOSTS RELY ON STEVE SMITH AND DAVID WARNER?The question this time last year was who has the potential to consistently score runs for Australia if the captain and vice-captain fall cheaply. The answer was emphatic - Usman Khawaja, Joe Burns and Adam Voges all played big roles in lopsided series wins over New Zealand and West Indies. It remains unclear if a sloppy tour of Sri Lanka was a subcontinent speedbump or return to the sort of calamitous collapses that were a somewhat regular feature during Michael Clarke's captaincy. A star-studded South African attack will find out the answer soon.

WHAT WILL KAGISO RABADA DELIVER? The express paceman is 21 and has only played eight Tests but already there is enough evidence to suggest he will be something special. Rabada should be a handful in his first Test series against Australia, especially in Perth if the WACA wicket is lively. Peter Siddle suggested the hosts should look to target the young gun but David Warner indicated he's likely to take a more conservative approach. If Rabada is able to help inflict some collapses it will take a lot of pressure off Steyn.

CAN MITCH MARSH TRANSITION FROM PLAYER OF GREAT POTENTIAL TO PROVEN PERFORMER? Coach Darren Lehmann has regularly spoken over the past year of how he'd love to see the No.6 batsman score more Test runs, sentiment shared by the allrounder himself. Marsh has produced three match-winning ODI knocks for his country this year but selectors are close to running out of patience. If Marsh is able to produce his best with both bat and ball it will go a long way to Australia winning. If he doesn't, he may soon find his spot in the XI filled by Moises Henrqiues. HOW MUCH OF A GAME-CHANGER WILL THE PINK BALL BE? Australia boast more day-night Test experience than their opposition, having beaten New Zeaand last year, but South Africa have two pink-ball tour games to prepare for the format. The potential series decider will be played with a new and improved pink Kookburra, compared to last year, while there may not be quite as much grass left on the Adelaide Oval pitch. Clearly it will still be a different challenge and one the Proteas must quickly come to grips with.

CAN NATHAN LYON BE A POINT OF DIFFERENCE? Lyon was one of many Australians to have their colours lowered in Sri Lanka. A return to more familar pitches should help the offspinner rediscover his best. If he is able to deliver that, Lyon will offer much-needed respite for Starc and Hazlewood and also threaten the tourists. If he isn't, the Proteas will look to attack Lyon and in the process unsettle Smith's bowling plans. The 28-year-old will play all three Tests if fit, while in sharp contrast the Proteas may play four quicks in Perth. There are two uncapped spinners in the tourists' squad.

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