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Michael Clarke has a tough task to pick up his players in time for the Perth Test and his bowling attack may need to be reshaped after the efforts in Adelaide
November 26, 2012
Report : Debutant du Plessis stars in thrilling draw
Features : Du Plessis survives three reviews and an edge
Matches: Australia v South Africa at Adelaide
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of Australia
For once, life imitated marketing spin. The central character in Cricket Australia's television commercial to promote the Test summer was Peter Siddle, revving himself up in one last despairing effort to win a match. That scenario played out almost exactly to the advertisers' script in Adelaide, but there was to be no happy ending. After both of his wickets in a final spell to try to claim the match, Siddle sank to his haunches, doing all he could to preserve energy. When Morne Morkel punched away the last ball of the match, Siddle looked utterly spent, and utterly inconsolable - he could not have given any more.
Siddle's travails summed up those of his team as a gilt-edged opportunity for a series lead slipped away, the rush of victory denied by South African defiance and an Adelaide pitch that declined to break up quite as much as Michael Clarke's men would have liked. Australia departed Brisbane fancying their chances after having much the better of the draw at the Gabba. They will fly to Perth having had even better of the contest in Adelaide, but this time they will be counting the cost. A side injury serious enough to end James Pattinson's Test summer is the most grievous blow, his pace and fire sorely missed on the final afternoon, but the rest of the attack are severely fatigued in body and potentially wounded in mind.
This much was underlined by the announcement of a Test squad stacked six-deep with fast bowlers. Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood and John Hastings provide much-needed reinforcement, but their presence confirmed exactly how concerned the national selectors were by the amount the last two days in Adelaide have taken out of Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon. There is even the possibility, however unlikely, that none of the aforementioned trio will play at the WACA ground. Such a changeover would be radical, but seldom has an attack composed of three full-time bowlers been asked to deliver 117 overs between them under an unrelenting sun and then back-up for a Test match three days later, one of which will be largely occupied by the four-hour flight to Perth.
There will be mental scars for Clarke, the coach Mickey Arthur and his assistants to salve in the short time available, much as there were when Australia fell one wicket short of winning the first Ashes Test of 2009 in Cardiff despite dominating to a similar degree. On that occasion the former captain Ricky Ponting spoke of a fuzziness of purpose that clouded the squad between Tests, directly resulting in a poor first day of the second Test at Lord's that set his side on the path to a heavy defeat. Clarke was not enthused by the comparison with Cardiff, but acknowledged Adelaide as a reminder of how much his team needed to do right to close out a Test against the world's No. 1 ranked Test team.
"I'd like to hope there are a lot of differences to Cardiff. We didn't bowl at a No. 10 and No. 11 for as long as we did in Cardiff. There's a lot of differences there," Clarke said. "It's a great example of how hard Test cricket is. There's ups and downs, nothing's a given in this game, you have to work your backside off to have success, and it's even harder against the No. 1 team in the world. We didn't expect them to lie down, we didn't expect them to give us the game today, we knew we were going to have to fight, we knew the wicket was still going to be good. We have to play our best cricket for five days, five full days to give ourselves every chance of winning this series."
Though he collected the parsimonious figures of 3 for 49 from 51 overs with 31 maidens, Lyon is one bowler who will look back on this day with some regret. For most of its journey, Lyon looked rushed. He jogged up to the bowling crease, bustled through his action, then hurried back to his mark with the sort of haste usually associated with Hilfenhaus. Only occasionally did the ball whir out of his fingers with flight and loop, more often spearing in a flatter arc towards the dead bats of Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis. Later on, around the time he belatedly dismissed Kallis, Lyon's rhythm improved, though this seemingly had less to do with design than fatigue. Walking slowly to his mark and gathering himself before each delivery, Lyon was simply too tired to rush anymore.
There have been times so far in his young career when Lyon has delivered better spells in the first innings of a Test than the second, notably on his debut in Sri Lanka and during the Dominica Test in the West Indies, when on both occasions his fingers and body tired on a pitch offering plenty of assistance, leaving others to take most of the wickets. Clarke was content with Lyon's bowling in Adelaide, but his advance from a promising international bowler to a complete one will require his finding the right rhythm and confidence to call the tune in the fourth innings.
Siddle and Hilfenhaus, meanwhile, face an enormous battle to freshen themselves up for the WACA ground. Siddle's efforts in a cause that fell short of victory are deserving of the sort of status afforded to Merv Hughes for his 13 wickets and a hat-trick for Australia against West Indies in Perth in 1988. Hilfenhaus was unfailingly accurate and wholehearted, but lacked the spark and sense of danger that Starc may have added with his left-arm variety. Admirably durable, Hilfenhaus can at least look forward to the ball swinging more readily for him in the west, and there is little chance of Matthew Wade venturing up to the stumps for him once they get there.
Ultimately, how Australia look back on their thwarted efforts in Adelaide will depend on how they recover for the third Test. A loss in the final match will tinge their recollections with tremendous regret, but a win will allow them to conclude, as England were able to do after falling a wicket short of winning at Old Trafford in 2005, that their superiority over the series was rewarded in the final analysis. Either way, the sight of a forlorn Siddle at the end of the match will certainly linger more readily in the memory than the ad that foreshadowed his last desperate push.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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