Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day

Clarke without answers on the worst of days

Michael Clarke had no answers as South Africa raced ahead in the Perth Test, virtually shutting out Australia's hopes of becoming the No. 1 Test side

Brydon Coverdale at the WACA

December 1, 2012

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting watch the runs flow, Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, 2nd day, Perth, December 1, 2012
Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting watched the runs flow from the slip cordon © Getty Images
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Late in the afternoon, as Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla were pushing the No.1 Test ranking out of Australia's reach with every flick of their bats, Michael Clarke stood at first slip, turned to his left and looked to Ricky Ponting. If he was after guidance, none was forthcoming. If he wanted divine intervention from a cricketing idol, he was disappointed. Neither Australia's current captain nor his predecessor had any answers. The well of inspiration was dry.

Ponting stood with arms crossed and his face solemn. It was much the same pose he had taken at the same venue four years ago, when Smith, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy wrested away a match that it seemed Australia could not lose by chasing down 414. Many times Ponting the captain had felt the same, a match accelerating like the lure in his beloved greyhound racing, and him with as much chance of catching it as the dogs. Now it was Clarke's turn.

If it was a shame that Australia suffered so torridly during Ponting's last match, it was also a fitting reminder of the challenges of captaincy. For 18 months, nearly everything Clarke the leader has touched has turned to gold. There have been occasional lapses, like Australia's 47 all out in Cape Town last November, and their loss to New Zealand in Hobart the following month. Standing in the cordon at the WACA, Ponting might well have reminded Clarke that this captaincy lark isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Clarke knew first-hand that runs could flow quickly in Perth. Six years ago, he was part of the fastest 150-run partnership in Test history, a stand that sprinted along at 8.10 runs an over as Adam Gilchrist repeatedly launched Monty Panesar nearly into the adjacent Gloucester Park racetrack during a 57-ball hundred. This time, without the same flamboyance but with just as much import, Amla and Smith hurried along at 6.98 an over, third on the list headed by Clarke and Gilchrist.

He was powerless to stop them. Could Peter Siddle have stemmed the flow? Maybe. Would Ben Hilfenhaus have provided a tougher challenge. Perhaps. But that was all academic as Mitchell Starc, in his fifth Test, John Hastings in his first, Mitchell Johnson in his comeback, and anyone else Clarke cared to try struggled to stop the runs. As captain, Clarke's use of the part-timer Michael Hussey has at times seemed ingenious; here, he went for 11 runs in his only over.

They fed Smith's pads and were helpless against Amla, who walked across his stumps and flicked any delivery he liked to leg. But if the Australians bowled wide of off, he was equally happy cutting and square driving. The old WACA rule that batsmen play with a horizontal or vertical bat, but not one at a 45-degree angle, did not seem to apply to him. That's a rule based on the bowlers finding bounce and movement, but here Australia's fast men couldn't produce enough of either.

Clarke was forced into a defensive mindset that he has rarely displayed as captain. Point and square leg were sent back to the fence, slips were moved out and damage limitation seemed to be his priority. Even that was unachievable. There was no spark, apart from two occasions when the 37-year-old Ponting showed the reflexes of a teenager and threw down the stumps, both times finding Smith in his ground by a small margin.

"Feel like jumping off the couch, grabbing the ball and having a bowl for Australia against the South Africans, seriously getting frustrated," Shane Warne tweeted. "Bowlers are rushing, everything is happening in fast forward, needs someone to slow the game down, take their time and be calm."

For half of his captaincy career, Ponting had Warne to hand the ball to if ever situations threatened to swing out of control. Clarke had nobody. Not until Nathan Lyon took a stunning diving catch in the outfield did the partnership end. There are times when fieldsmen in the deep can be catching men, but by this stage they were there as much to prevent runs as anything. It wasn't clear what plan the Australians were bowling to; they just got lucky.

A similar lack of thought afflicted their batting earlier in the day. Matthew Wade, whose counterattacking 68 prevented more of a disaster, tried to slog sweep a Robin Peterson ball that was much too full. Wade walked off the ground hitting himself on the helmet with his bat. "Stupid, stupid," you could almost hear him say to himself. Johnson fell in almost identical fashion. He walked off thumping his bat into his right pad. He must have had the same sentiment.

The top-order men fell to a mixture of good balls and poor strokes. The Dale Steyn ball that caught Clarke's edge was magnificent. At 6 for 45, it wasn't quite Cape Town all over again, but it was bad. By stumps, South Africa were 2 for 230 on a day when Australia lost 8 for 130. Clarke's men have been so good so often, but while they continue to have calamitous days like they have in Perth, and Cape Town, and Hobart, they will find it hard to reach No.1 and stay there. And after this match, Clarke won't even have Ponting there to sympathise with him.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 5:40 GMT)

OK,lets also give credit where its due-The Aussie top order all got out to great bowling apart from Warner and he got out attacking a good ball anyway.All the other top order guys were worked over and out to defensive strokes.With the batting,Smith and Amla are very tough to bowl to when on song.Both are dominant leg side players and were taking perfectly good deliveries from outside off and scoring to leg.Lft and right hander to boot! They were actually moving across the stumps and hitting the bowlers of their lengths.Its not that the bowling was disastrous-its just that the batting was too good on this occasion as was the S.A bowling earlier on.

Posted by disco_bob on (December 2, 2012, 5:10 GMT)

A good wake up call for Clarke. After the clatter of wickets yesterday, it was inevitable that the bowlers would be on a hiding to nothing.

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 4:16 GMT)

Australia getting a taste of their own dominance from 10 years ago, I guess nothing can stay at top. I am very happy to see them decline though.

Posted by wpAus on (December 2, 2012, 2:06 GMT)

The turning point in the series was when Pattinson injured his side in Adelaide. From then, Aus failed to threaten and strike with the ball and looked mediocre in Perth. Patto is a seriously good bowler who will take several 100s Test wickets. He is the future of Australian cricket.

For bowling: Pattinson is the goods, Cummins needs time to truly prove himself and develop but looks promising at best, Starc has potential (as do Faulkner, Hazelwood and McDermott), Lyon is really only a domestic bowler but will do for now. Hilfenhaus is decent and will experience occasional good form, but won't last. Peter Siddle is overrated, simply fills overs and ties down an end - his bowling simply isn't venomous enough to take wickets, break parterships. Patto is aggressive, fast and brave enough to constantly bowl the ball where he sees a wicket (even if he risks going for a boundary). He is the real deal (unlike the other pretenders in the team). Pattinson, Hussey and Clarke ARE the Aus team.

Posted by anikeert on (December 2, 2012, 1:58 GMT)

This just shows there's no clear no.1 team in world cricket now.

Posted by wpAus on (December 2, 2012, 1:54 GMT)

The top order is filled with young, inexperienced and decent domestic players with first-class averages of 40: David Warner and Ed Cowan score the occasional hundred followed a string of low scores, and they rarely form strong or consistent partnerships. Watson has an international average of 35ish, which is unacceptable, and needs to score big runs at 3 or move to 6. Khawaja, Hughes and Quiney are decent first-class players with averages between 35-45 but they aren't 'banging the door down' or proving that they are international batsman (e.g. Hayden, Hussey, Hodge breaking into Test team) - so number 4 will be difficult to replace. Clarke is in a brilliant 'purple patch', which most top players experience, but he will need support and consistent support when form dims. Same for Hussey, who will also need replacing by one of the mediocre first-class players in a year or two when he retires/is dropped. Wade is a good batsman (for keeper) but a complete drop-cricket and sub-stantard keep

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 1:50 GMT)

Samin you have zero idea what you are talking about. This is a flat track and that always works against Australia. Green tops should have been prepared as that is what would have helped the Aussies. The simple fact is that Australia's bowlers are a poor standard. they cannot bowl any line of length and do very little with the ball as they are used to bowling on green tops in shield. . Australian cricket is easily the poorest standard it has ever been. the fact they are so close to number 1 shows just how weak world cricket currently is.

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 1:33 GMT)

Boys against men in the 3rd session yesterday, probably very hard to watch for loyal Aussies i'd bet. You can't leave Siddle out, there's no Talisman in the bowling ranks. The only silver lining (and it's very thin)that I can see is that Aus will get a chance to break SA record 4th Inns chase. I fear for day 3 given the ball is a juicy 40ish overs old, and by the time the new ball arrives De Villiers and Du Plessis might be set and on 50+ each themselves.....should be an interesting day's play today. If Australia are not batting before lunch then nothing will save then, if they don't bat until 5pm then good luck chasing down 500.

Posted by landl47 on (December 2, 2012, 0:47 GMT)

Australia had a bad day. South Africa had a good one. It happens. It was only a few days ago that Aus scored 482 on the first day of a test- on that day the roles were reversed. Cricket, thank goodness, isn't predictable.

Posted by   on (December 2, 2012, 0:29 GMT)

South Africa has played the game of attrition really well, getting used to the Aussie conditions and getting their batting settled on flat pitches with a bit of luck too. Now that the Aussies are spent they are on the attack, their batting is clicking and the hosts balling is spent! The Australian middle order Clark, Ponting and Company usually don't do so well when the ball is doing a lot and may find them exposed again in the second innings as well.

Posted by markthespark on (December 1, 2012, 23:38 GMT)

@samincolumbia: And how have Australia fared with bowling South Africa out twice on flat tracks. Face it, in all three tests Australia haven't been good enough to win.

Posted by Ms.Cricket on (December 1, 2012, 22:50 GMT)

Australia lost it when Hilfenhaus was selected ahead of Starc and Watson was left out for Quiney in Adelaide. For Perth, the selection of Johnson (when you have a left-armer in Starc) was strange and inappropriate. Siddle should have played if he was not injured surely.

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 22:02 GMT)

Aussies are in trouble, all depends what target set by SA and how Australian bats 2nd time, looks very bleak if they can come out of the jail this time.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (December 1, 2012, 21:28 GMT)

As an Aussie, I'd much rather see a champion team flogging us than it being neutered by flat tracks. That was much more embarrassing than our batting and bowling yesterday.

Posted by peeeeet on (December 1, 2012, 21:18 GMT)

@samincolumbia - I guess you didn't see Clarke's century in SA last year with the ball moving all over the place? He's not a flat tracker by any means.

As for this test, completely agree that resting Sids and Hilfy was a bad idea. Especially with Watson back, they wouldn't have had to bowl as much as in the other tests. But doesn't do any good to say this in hindsight, so I guess what we can learn is that Starc is raw, Hastings is probably a good Shield bowler but not at this level, and Mitch is as useless as he has always been. Or SA batting was just way too darn good. Hope the bowlers come out firing today just like they did at the GABBA after Amla and Kallis had a great partnership.

Posted by BnH1985Fan on (December 1, 2012, 21:01 GMT)

I think the decision to rest exhausted players is the right one. Australia has too much invested in them to risk further, possibly career threatening injuries. i do agree however that they appear to be surrendering somewhat meekly. RSA lost the opportunity to get a much bigger lead. It was quite possible for RSA to finish off Australia inside 125 given 45-6 with all major batsmen out save Hussey and Wade. A 500+ target could end this match inside 4 days. You have got to LOVE test cricket!

Posted by RodStark on (December 1, 2012, 20:39 GMT)

From an England fan's point of view, I've actually been supporting Australia in this series. Not because I like them especially, but because if SA gets out of this series with the number one ranking intact, they look like hanging onto it for a while based on future schedules. I had been hoping that the back-to-back Ashes might also have been a battle for number one. Doesn't seem much chance of that now.

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 19:50 GMT)

Aussies rotated themselves out of good form.

Posted by sharidas on (December 1, 2012, 19:23 GMT)

The usual media fare these days...praised to the heavens in one game - deservedly or otherwise - ground to dust the next game.

Posted by sticket on (December 1, 2012, 18:23 GMT)

Oz still believe they are no 1.They are not ,they have to learn to fight on the back foot.They are not going to like the next few years.

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 17:37 GMT)

I abosutely agree with din7. It was a ludicrous decision to leave Siddle out - for the championship match on a helpful pitch. What?? Mitch will inevitably disappoint and Hasting's a trundler at best. Hastings was probably picked on his pre-injury 1 day performances - muddled thinking by the selectors. Not good enough. I think Starc will be good, but he needs to learn with senior men - he needs mentoring. Who is there to give him guidance in this Test??

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 17:19 GMT)

First two flat tracks, than preparing a bouncy one and resting the best quicks, How funny!

Posted by Spelele on (December 1, 2012, 16:36 GMT)

Lol where was his so-called brilliant captaincy this time? I've said before that his captaincy is overrated! When the pressure is on like it was today, Clarke crumbles. That is nothing new really.

Posted by Shaynej on (December 1, 2012, 16:28 GMT)

@ Aamir Yar Khan, the Aussies have played plenty of out-of-form players before before because they've trusted them to come good...have you forgotten Tubby Taylor, Steve and Mark Waugh, Michael Slater to name some recent examples? And they've used night watchmen aplenty too in the last 110 years.

I would suggest reading some cricket history first.

Doing either thing has nothing to do with a champion mindset. If you think it has, talk to Clive Lloyd or Imran Khan about their teams in the '80s. Oz has won AND lost many matches doing both these things (or none)...one has got nothing to do with the other.

Posted by Shaynej on (December 1, 2012, 16:17 GMT)

@ Din7, if we use your point about debutants being below 130km, Vernon Philander would never have made his debut, along with a few hundred others over the history of cricket. They don't have Hilfy or Siddle, because neither they or the team management thought they would last another 5 days in the field before breaking down...they're Aussies, not wusses... they're not going to sit in the dressing room or at home if they thought that they could hack it on the field in Perth. This is the best pace attack that Oz can muster at the moment, and MJ is back because they need his experience to lead the pace bowlers.

There's no point in blaming MC or the team management - they're playing with the best deck available to them. Why not credit a bravura batting performance by Amla and Smith instead?

Posted by crashed on (December 1, 2012, 16:10 GMT)

Simply put Australia miss a Siddle in the middle of the third test We live with our decisions - be it in joy or misery after the test had been concluded. A fully represented Ausie team could not get 18 test wickets in the first testin time to win and not 20 (with an injured kallis included) in the second test. Truly both teams were tested on form (with injuries to both teams). A great series a great test and game on in the third match. I hope no injuries come from this and i hope the best team win

Posted by Theborngenius on (December 1, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

Poor coaching from Micky Arthur.. Didn't see him emphasize so much on resting his bowlers when he was the coach of SA.. That is why he took SA to No.1 in both tests and ODIs during his tenure.. A complete flop for the Australians though..A very bad T20 team, one of the worst ODI team(infact the worst ever in the history of Australian cricket) and a bad test team as well(which has defeated only WI and a lacklustre India out of his 5 series as a coach, couldn't even defeat NZ).. And never even seen any Aussie captain emphasizing so much on resting.. While clarke Leads with the bat, his team selection is immature..

Posted by NIT2222 on (December 1, 2012, 15:28 GMT)

Reallly poooor pooor decision by the team and management to rest siddle hilfenhaus for the main match... who would pick hasting starc and johnson in the most imp match of the series... this is utter foolishness.... it was almost like australia amateur bowling vs south africa professional attack.... this was so sad to see.... i hope atleast they win the series against sl after this ..... Good luck for future and pls dun make such decisions for the coming matches.....

Posted by AlvarotheAussie on (December 1, 2012, 15:15 GMT)

@samincolumbia Clarke a flat track bully? Did you see his sublime 151 under immense pressure against this very same South African bowling attack in their own overcast conditions on a greentop? I think he is due one low score in every year, maybe?

Posted by samincolumbia on (December 1, 2012, 14:28 GMT)

Aussies should have gone with a FLAT track like the previous two matches to negate SA's pace attack...Clarke and the rest of the flat track bullies would have scored a ton or two and the aussie fans and press would trip over themselves to call their team legend and the true #1 team.

Posted by   on (December 1, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

Aussie side never played out of form players for the sake of honor. They never sent night watchman to save a champ batsman from some lethal deliveries. Its a shift of mindset. No more look like champs. Even that momentum is no more.

Posted by din7 on (December 1, 2012, 13:58 GMT)

Ok so what did clarke and aussies think before this match. I didnt expect it from clarke, resting ur best bowlers from main match..they might have got injured playin but thats cricket..u cant imp lose game like this just out of fear of injury..and what they got..a debutant with speed below130km/hr, another playin his 4th test and another who was dropped for poor performance and suddenly finds place in the side without performance..As i told to my brother, aus lost the match before it started.had sid and hiffy there things would have been totally different, especially sid was bowling to well even though he didnt got any help from ptch in last 2games..what was clarke thinking? im indian and follow aus cricket more than india.. i wanted aus to win this match..i was so disappointed i turned off the tv when they started bowling like this and wont see any part of the match for sure...such a big mistake in such a crucial match...sorry clarke u are my most favourite, but this was most foolish

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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