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
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
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
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
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
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