Australia in SA

SA v Oz: Skippers seek form

2014-02-24 23:01
Graeme Smith and Michael Clarke (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Whichever of the slightly misfiring captains, Graeme Smith and Michael Clarke, recaptures some personal form best at Newlands from Saturday could play a big role in determining the outcome of the third Test and engrossing series between South Africa and Australia.

Typically of many skippers, both modern giants of the game relish leading from the front and the importance of this particular clash could be just the medicine to get either or both back among the runs in a meaningful way.

The pair have had unusually low returns at the crease in the ding-dong series thus far, with the left-handed Smith registering 10 and four in the heavy SuperSport Park defeat, and then nine and 14 despite his Proteas charges roaring back to win comprehensively at St George’s Park.

Similarly, Aussie middle order kingpin Clarke has not bothered the scoreboard too much, en route to 23 and 17 not out at Centurion and 19 and one in Port Elizabeth.

So apart from the obvious weight of responsibility on their respective shoulders from a leadership and strategic point of view for Newlands, there is just that extra little bit of pressure on each to deliver with the blade.

Clarke is the one feeling a tad more heat in that regard, because his lean trot is of greater duration than Smith’s.

The 33-year-old “Biff”, remember, was going along just fine in early-season Test combat for South Africa, leading up to this particular series where his old foe Mitchell Johnson has snared him three times in four innings.

He had scored his fifth career double century (234) in the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai -- a typical backs-to-the-wall marathon knock by Smith as the Proteas struck back to win that encounter and share the mini-series 1-1 after a humbling in Abu Dhabi.

The similarly short home series against India, won 1-0 by his team, also went well personally as he recorded 186 runs at an average of 62.

It is really only in the Australian series thus far, then, that he has been having a pretty wretched time at the top of the order.

More of a worry, from a visiting team point of view, is Clarke’s strangely protracted run of low scores: he has been a violently regressing element since starting the recent Ashes series with a bang, managing centuries in each of the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests.

Since then it has been downhill all the way: 24 and 23 at Perth, 10 and six not out at Melbourne, 10 and six at Sydney, and then his aforementioned list of failures in the current series against SA.

But I would not wager too confidently against either Smith or Clarke suffering further failures in the critical Newlands battle.

After all, the last time these teams met at the very same venue, the rollercoaster first Test of the drawn 2011/12 series, both contributed with more familiar lustre: Clarke stood virtually man alone in the Aussie first innings of 284 with his exemplary 151.

But then Smith later came to light with an unbeaten 101 as the Proteas chased down a target of 236 for the loss of just two wickets after what could only be described as a bizarre middle phase of the contest.

Here are a few relevant batting statistics on each captain:

Graeme Smith (age 33)

Test runs: 9,257 at 48.72

Runs against Australia (20 Tests): 1,230 at 34.16

Test record at Newlands (16 Tests): 1,355 runs at 52.11

 Michael Clarke (age 32)

Test runs: 8,079 at 50.81

Runs against South Africa (13 Tests): 1,326 at 63.14

Test record at Newlands (2 Tests): 200 runs at 50.00

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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