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View from Down Under: Australia slight favorites over South Africa for first Test at Durban

Australia faces something of an unknown when it opens its four-test series against South Africa in Durban this week.

The formidable Aussie pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins is reunited after dominating England to claim the Ashes series 4-0, but faces an equally daunting lineup of Proteas quicks.

And while the series has been billed as a meeting of some of the world’s best fast bowlers, early indications are that Kingsmead oval is promising only limited opportunities for the pacemen.

Prolific offspinner Nathan Lyon, who worked as a groundsman at Adelaide Oval prior to donning the Baggy Green, was keeping an open mind about the wicket this week.

“Hopefully it will spin … it looks like a pretty good pitch,” said Lyon, who was the world’s leading Test wicket taker in 2017.

South Africa won the first two of three tests against India in January to claim the series 2-1, thanks to a four-man pace attack and the assistance of left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

Dale Steyn sidelined

And while veteran spearhead Dale Steyn remains sidelined with a heel injury, the home side retains the services of match-winning quicks Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.

Captain Faf du Plessis is expected to play in the first Test, despite breaking his right index finger four weeks ago.

For Australia, Steve Smith returns to the captain’s duties after handing the role to David Warner for the T20 tri-series against New Zealand and England, which was comprehensively won by Australia.

South Africa had the better of Australia when the Proteas visited Down Under in 2016, claiming the series 2-1. But the Aussies had the better of it the last time they visited South Africa, winning 2-1 in 2014.

Of their past five series, Australia and South Africa have won two each with one drawn.

Sportsbet expects that even competition to continue in Durban with Australia on slight favorites on $2.22 (+122) to win the first Test, with South Africa on $2.50 (+150).

Looking ahead, Australia is paying $5.50 (+450) to claim the series 2-1, $7 (+600) for a 3-1 win, $13 (+1200) to take it 3-0 and $18 (+1700) for a 4-0 sweep.

Brumbies look to pull ahead

In Super Rugby, the ACT Brumbies can take the Australian conference lead, and second overall, with a win over the beleaguered Queensland Reds.

The Reds suffered a convincing loss at the hands of the Melbourne Rebels in last week’s opening round and are the $2.60 (+160) underdogs for the Brisbane match on Friday, with just $1.50 (-200) for the Brumbies.

The Rebels have a good chance of remaining unbeaten, paying just $1.35 (-286) to beat the Sunwolves on Saturday, with the Japanese side on $3.20 (+220).

The Waratahs are tipped to slip away from the top two Aussie sides, with South Africa’s Sharks on $1.44 (-227) to win at home and $2.81 (+181) for NSW.

In the A-League, Melbourne City is expected to hang on to third place in a tight contest against hometown rivals the Melbourne Victory on Friday.

City, which is just two points ahead of the Victory, is on $2.37 (+137) to claim the much-needed win, with $2.80 (+180) for a loss.