Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2008

'Their tailenders have good techniques' - Arthur

Michael Clarke, who made an unbeaten 88, added 117 with the tail to help Australia reach 394 © AFP (file photo)

Wagging tails are a good sign for dog owners but not for bowling sides. There are few things more frustrating for a fielding captain than failing to rattle through the lower order after the batsmen have been silenced, and it is a trend that has left the South Africans annoyed several times this series.

At 6 for 280 at stumps on the first day South Africa were certain they were on top; at the close of day two Australia were so clearly in charge that South Africa's coach Mickey Arthur had several potential answers to the question of what had gone wrong. Their 196-run deficit with three wickets in hand was largely caused by the penetration of Australia's attack but it was the inability of their own bowlers to skittle Australia's lower order that had set up the trend for the day.

With Michael Clarke guiding the effort, the last four pairs added 117 before lunch and it was a flashback to both innings in Perth. The second innings at the WACA was especially frustrating for South Africa as Australia's last three partnerships added up to 157, and Arthur said his bowlers would need to change their approach.

"We haven't really bowled to them as it's been a tail," Arthur said. "They've always had a batter with them so your mindset then does change a little bit. It's easier then for the tail because all they're doing is defending for another batter to attack. They've all got good techniques.

"We need to probably treat them as batters and bowl batters' lines rather than looking for too many glory balls as you do against tailenders. You perhaps look to bowl them out instead of building that pressure as you do if you're bowling to Nos. 5 and 6."

The captain Graeme Smith set the field back when Clarke was on strike, hoping to entice singles that would allow his fast men to target the less capable batsmen. There were two problems with the plan: Clarke was often quick enough to get back for twos to retain the strike; and even when he took the singles his partners were up to the task.

Brett Lee made 21, Nathan Hauritz 12 and Peter Siddle 19, and they were runs South Africa could ill afford to give up. They let Australia reach 394, well past the 350 Arthur wanted as an upper limit. Having struggled at the WACA, Dale Steyn was the one shining light with 5 for 87, which was a rare positive Arthur could take out of the day.

"I thought he was very good, I thought he was back to where he needed to be," Arthur said. "There was a hint of swing. He had some movement, he was getting back to the Dale Steyn that we knew. I was pretty happy and if he keeps improving it will be pretty exciting for us."

But Steyn will need to emulate his fellow wicket-taker Siddle and contribute with the bat on the third day for South Africa to have their best chance of staying in the match. Like Australia with Clarke, South Africa have a specialist batsman at the crease and they want JP Duminy to build significantly on his 34.

"If we can maybe try and add another 70 that's going to take us around to lunch time, not only does that get us closer it also takes time out of the game," Arthur said. "We've got it all to do, really. We've got to find a way to get ourselves out of this situation."

Siddle, who picked up 3 for 24, will be searching for his first five-wicket haul and as a tail-wagger himself he knows the importance of wrapping up the innings rapidly. "Those 10 or 20 extra overs that [South Africa were] out in the field is just a little bit more tired legs and little bit more frustrated they get," Siddle said. "It can put the pressure on the top-order batsmen that do have to come in."

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo