South Africa in Australia 2012-13 November 19, 2012

South Africa hope bouncers can curb Clarke

Don't be surprised if South Africa rethink their tactics to Michael Clarke after his Gabba double-century and send down more bouncers in Adelaide

Bodyline first flared in Douglas Jardine's mind at the Oval Test match in 1930, when he saw Don Bradman flinch at several short balls on a wet wicket. Bradman always retorted quite reasonably that the innings in question only ended when he was wrongly given out caught behind having made 232. But Jardine trusted the evidence of his eyes, and his memory of Bradman's momentary discomfort bloomed into calculated and effective action, however unpopular.

Michael Clarke is no Bradman, and the Gabba pitch was far from damp. Yet Clarke can expect a more sustained barrage of short-pitched bowling from South Africa in Adelaide after long swathes of his unbeaten 259 in Brisbane were curiously allowed to pass without resort to a tactic that caused Australia's captain considerable discomfort early in his innings.

Churlish as it may be to criticise a batsman who peeled off his third score of more than 200 for 2012, the fact remains that Clarke struggled in his play against bouncers at the Gabba. Two attempts at half-hearted pull shots from the bowling of Rory Kleinveldt landed tantalisingly out of the reach of fielders, while Clarke's difficulty in trying to duck underneath short balls caused him to throw his gloves at several of them in self-preservation, one delivered by Dale Steyn looping fortunately between the batsman and the slips cordon.

Why South Africa more or less abandoned the tactic as Clarke's innings bloomed in the company of Ed Cowan then Michael Hussey is one of the first Test's major mysteries, and can perhaps be put down to the bowling's collective lack of thought after the early gains of the new ball were turned back by Australia's counter-attack. Only once all innings did Clarke reach the boundary with anything resembling a pull shot, swinging Steyn over wide mid-on when given room outside off stump.

But most other times Clarke's usually organised footwork and crisp ball-striking were absent when the bowlers fired the ball at his body or helmet, and his somewhat ungainly attempts to get under bouncers illustrated the kind of inflexibility created by a back condition Australia's leader has had to manage since his teenage years.

Clarke was helped by the fact that both Cowan and Hussey are exemplary players of the pull shot, as befits a pair who have spent significant stretches of their respective careers batting at the top of the order. Cowan's willingness to play the stroke early on against Steyn was an important moment in the match, and it is possible that the comfort he and Hussey showed in their cross-bat shots left South Africa reticent to pitch short in any case, even after Clarke had shown markedly less enthusiasm for it.

Morne Morkel is perhaps the best equipped of South Africa's pacemen to challenge Clarke with short-pitched offerings, though Steyn's skidding bumpers are also of sufficient velocity and direction. On an Adelaide surface that may offer some early life before flattening out and then deteriorating to offer variable bounce late in the match, the short ball appears a more likely path to defeating Clarke than pushing the ball up to the bat in the hope of an edge.

"Any batsman at first struggles with the short ball," Morkel said when quizzed about Clarke's handful of awkward moments in Brisbane. "We'll probably sit and come up with game plans today, start working on those sort of things. Definitely, that is a plan to use the short ball. Because you've got two per over, you might as well use that, but you have to do it in a clever way and we will go from there."

Clever is one way of describing Jardine's tactics 80 years ago, and a key to their success was the sustained nature of the assault. If South Africa truly wish to curb Clarke's strokeplay at Adelaide Oval they will need to attack him with greater clarity of purpose, and force him into playing shots that he did not seem terribly keen to employ in Brisbane.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Alex on November 21, 2012, 17:35 GMT

    This is a ridiculous statement that Clarke is vulnerable to short pitched bowling. Typical always having a go at a bloke when he is on top. This guy scored a fantastic double hundred and yes he did get lucky a couple of times but every batsman needs a bit. Some people just can't accept the fact that Michael Clarke has risen with the captaincy and could really become a huge force in world cricket over the next few years.

  • P on November 21, 2012, 2:40 GMT

    SA can try but SA's pace is not that of Brett Lee. Steyn averages around 135 kmph and Philander 130 kmph. At that pace, bouncers are not going to do much. Only Morkel may be effective and that too for first 10 overs. If SA is only relying on bouncers then they are not that well prepared.

  • Mathew on November 20, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    I for one hope these tactics don't work. If Clarke goes early it will be left up to the other 10 emense batting talents of Aus to try and claw a draw. Looking forward to the next match and too see if Aus can play as well and SA as poorly to get 5 days out of it.

  • Geoffrey on November 20, 2012, 10:58 GMT

    Good luck with that. The poms have been trying to bounce out Australian top order batsmen since the 1930's. This being the main reason why they've only won six test series out of 22 played here since Bodyline. They should look at how full England bowled in 2010, and how successful it was.

  • James on November 20, 2012, 10:36 GMT

    As my coach used to say, don't lift the bat. Then move the head and neck if necessary. Being hit on the body mostly stings and only sometimes hurts, but often this does not even happen. Two short balls an over just means, in effect, four-ball overs. It is a game-slowing tactic as much as anything.

  • Nigel on November 20, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    Scott Jones is right. Adelaide has true bounce and very short square boundaries. Bowling short there usually ends up with the crowd throwing a lot of balls back from row 10. I dare them to try it to Warner, Quiney, Ponting, Hussey or Wade, all excellent players of the cross bat shots. Even Cowan showed he was adept at them at the Gabba. Clarke may not pull of the back foot, but I doubt it will get him out.

  • Prasanna on November 20, 2012, 8:50 GMT

    @Marcio, for sure, people wouldnt let go of their prejudices against us. Oh ya, we have been dominating for quite some time , which couldn't be digested at all by one and sundry. Hence their outrage against us is quite natural . But on any day, I would love to make people grudging against us by another round of dominance, rather than being liked for not doing so.

  • Shakti on November 20, 2012, 7:08 GMT

    The surface will be too flat & slow for this sort of plan.Australia need to use the short ball more as well,Jacques Kallis is the main suspect.But the surface will still not allow for that either.

  • khadeer on November 20, 2012, 6:13 GMT

    Marcio ..mate I second all that you have said and incidentally I too am "a friend from up north". Aussie bashing seems to be our favorite national pastime. Sad but true.

  • Dummy4 on November 20, 2012, 4:18 GMT

    Anyone bowling short stuff at the Adelaide Oval is asking for trouble due to the short boundaries square of the wicket. Bowlers from both teams would be better off focussing their energies on aiming to hit the top of off stump than banging it in half way down the pitch.

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