Proteas in Australia

Clarke scalp key in SA’s push

2012-11-11 13:04
Michael Clarke (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Get rid of “Pup” ... that was likely to be a strong sentiment in the Proteas’ dressing room as they held the aces after day three of the first Test against Australia in Brisbane on Sunday.

Michael Clarke, the Baggy Greens’ captain, was unbeaten at stumps on a comfortably-compiled 34 as the Aussies required a further 140 runs with seven wickets in hand to achieve their initial objective of avoiding a follow-on prospect in the rain-affected contest.

Aided also by opener Ed Cowan, who has thus far counter-punched the frisky SA pace arsenal with an aggression out of character with his more dour reputation, the home nation stabilised to an extent before the close, turning a precarious 40 for three to slightly more assured 111 without further setback.

Nevertheless the Proteas, who surely must be considered in a position at least not to lose the Test, have a healthy sniff of blood, especially as seasoned Ricky Ponting jabbed in slightly hard-handed fashion at a Morne Morkel delivery outside off-stump to be snaffled at slip for a five-ball duck.

Cowan did have a desperately narrow escape not long before stumps when Graeme Smith-requested replays showed that he had indeed gloved Morkel behind, only for the bowler to be fingered for a marginal no-ball.

But especially with Clarke looking the least troubled of all the Australian batsmen thus far, the skipper quite possibly holds the key to amassing a first-knock total that thwarts the South African charge and ensures a likely stalemate after the loss of the entire second day’s play to the Queensland elements.

If the 31-year-old right-hander is ripped out fairly quickly on day four, the Proteas will be extremely close to getting stuck into what looks a vulnerable, on paper at any rate, Aussie tail.

Clarke has an excellent home record against these great foes, averaging around 83 from four Tests including his fluent contribution thus far to the one at the Gabba.

He clobbered 138 and 41 in the last Aussie-staged Test between these countries, the admittedly dead-rubber one at Sydney in 2008/09, when a consolation victory by the Baggy Greens closed the final gap to 2-1; he had had a wonderfully consistent personal series generally.

Should Clarke fall early in Monday’s play, a cold shiver is likely to afflict all in the Australian camp, but if he kicks on to a big score the draw will only balloon as likeliest outcome.

Even if they do manage to force the follow-on possibility, it ought to be tough given the time constraints now for the Proteas to bowl the Australians out twice, especially after their decision not to field specialist spinner Imran Tahir and then the day-one injury shocker to part-time “offie” JP Duminy.

Unfortunately for Rory Kleinveldt, the burly Cape Cobras seamer unexpectedly handed a debut following the Tahir snub, his first three overs in the Test arena proved traumatic (3-0-27-0), as he nervously succumbed to pitching too short and was ruthlessly and frequently clubbed to the ropes by Cowan and Clarke.

On the brighter side, it was noticeable that he just seemed to be finding the more correct length towards the end of his brief spell, and his captain will be among those who know he is better than his early bowling evidence in Brisbane suggests – don’t discount a bounce-back of some sort by the big unit.

South Africa did land a couple of other useful little psychological blows on Sunday, including Dale Steyn snaring the hard-hitting David Warner for four to help dampen Mickey Arthur’s widely-reported theory about his competence (or rather not) at bowling to left-handers.

And if anyone Down Under just fancied that the gnarly old Jacques Kallis was going to be placed “on the hop” on reasonably pace-friendly tracks on this tour, his first-knock tally of 147 off 274 deliveries was some statement to the contrary indeed.
What more need be said about the present-day Hashim Amla?

You just expect centuries from this unflustered, disciplined and committed soul and more often than not you get ‘em ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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