Cape Town – The optimistic take, if a cricket team of one’s
choice is being pummelled in a series by particular batsmen, is to suggest of
the next encounter: “Pah, they must be due to fail.”
Proteas enthusiasts are sure to be clamouring, then, for
Australian captain Michael Clarke, who has double centuries in consecutive
Tests against South Africa to his credit, and middle-order stalwart Mike Hussey
(two of the single variety) to experience “corrections” of some magnitude when
the teams lock horns in the decisive final encounter in Perth from Friday.
Australians, of course, will prefer to venture that they are
batsmen in the most consummate of form and will simply inflict further
suffering on the highly-touted touring attack.
But particularly in the case of Clarke, the dashing
right-hander who currently sports a Test average of 76 against South Africa and
a staggering 130 against the Proteas specifically on Aussie soil, the
possibility exists that he may struggle to match the mental and physical hunger
at the WACA that he demonstrated so compellingly at both Brisbane and Adelaide.
You would think there will at least some measure of
frustration by “Pup”, after all, that his massive personal stamp on the series
is yet to yield a victory for his charges ... not to mention a quiet fear in
the back of the skipper’s mind that the Baggy Greens may have shot their load,
without significant success in the results column, and that a momentum shift is
potentially waiting to happen in the decider.
Like it or not in Australia, that is sure to be at least
part of the way Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith and company will be trying to pump
up their own players for the high-stakes occasion at a venue where South Africa
famously won, chasing down 414 in the fourth innings, last time out.
That said, considering the brutal manner in which he went
about his first-innings business at Adelaide Oval, his 230 coming at a searing
strike rate of 89, Clarke should not be especially footsore.
He will also be bidding -- although the tough ask is
unlikely to be the foremost thing on his mind -- to become the first player
ever to register double tons in three Tests on the trot.
Already, he is the first to register four double centuries
in a single calendar year, considering his prior ones in the series against
India during January, including a career-best treble (329 not out) at Sydney.
But 37-year-old Hussey, the Australian left-hander at No 6,
is also experiencing something of a second honeymoon statistically in this
series – and it has been very important to the cause, bearing in mind the
pronounced ongoing struggle of another veteran, Ricky Ponting, to get among the
runs against one of the country’s fiercest foes.
Ponting has been part of an Aussie top four that has,
collectively, fired fitfully in the series thus far, although at least openers
Ed Cowan and David Warner do have one ton each to boast.
The relative unease in slots one to four, critical positions
in any Test team, has been masked so far by the exceptional performances at Nos
5 and 6 by Clarke and Hussey respectively – between them, this pair have
registered as many as 784 of the 1298 runs (excluding extras) achieved off all
Australian bats in the series.
South Africa will strongly feel, it is no surprise, that if
they somehow manage to knock over the most in-form duo in the Baggy Greens’
line-up relatively cheaply each time on the fast-paced WACA surface, they might
be a considerable way toward tilting the series balance their way.
Now which bowlers will stick their hands up for the overdue “Get
the Michaels” job?
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