November 18, 2012

South Africa's quicks need to be proactive in Adelaide

The pitch won't allow them to sit back and wait for the batsmen to make mistakes

The South Africans should be wary of the Adelaide Test. They were extremely lacklustre at the Gabba, especially following the washed-out second day.

The two areas where they fell down badly were their bowling, which lacked venom, and tactical imagination. They sat back and waited for Australia to make mistakes, and against good sides that ploy usually backfires.

Adelaide might be known as the city of churches but it can be most unwelcoming for fast bowlers who aren't prepared to bend their back for long periods and stretch their imagination to the limits. Batsmen with a thirst for runs look forward to visiting Adelaide, not just because there are actually more pubs in the near vicinity of the oval than places of worship. The pitch is true and the bounce reliable for the first three days, and that's the time for batsmen to slake their thirst. After that, things start to get more interesting for bowlers. The bounce becomes variable, the ball occasionally deviates off the wearing sections of the pitch, and the spinners extract some turn.

That's why Test matches that appear for all money to be headed for a draw suddenly come alive at the tail-end. The second Test of the 2003-04 series against India is a classic example, where both teams amassed in excess of 500 in the first innings. Then, on a seemingly benign pitch, Ajit Agarkar led a second-innings heist and Rahul Dravid piloted India to an unlikely victory.

At the Gabba, the South Africans functioned like a badly tuned Model T Ford. While Graeme Smith seemed content to settle for a draw following a day lost to rain, Michael Clarke, as usual, was busy conjuring up ways to clinch victory. If Smith and the South African fast bowlers adopt a similar passive approach in the second Test, the chances of an Australian win will greatly increase.

South Africa's lack of variety in attack will be corrected by the inclusion of Imran Tahir for Adelaide. However, the absence of venom from their quicks will only be rectified by a concerted effort from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. We hear how South Africa has the No. 1 attack in the world, but at the Gabba they appeared to lack a bowler to "shake up the opposition". Unless they are prepared to inject a bit more venom into their bowling in Adelaide, the Australian batting line-up will continue to excel.

Smith has to be more proactive. Adelaide has the sort of pitch where you need to try a few things to get into the batsman's mind and create doubt. Sitting back, waiting for errors of judgement, won't work. On the evidence of Brisbane, Clarke has a big advantage over Smith in this regard.

Australia's biggest dilemma is whether to include the injury-prone Shane Watson for a Test where having bowling options will be invaluable. Cricket Australia is correct to have reservations about Watson's ability to get through a Test physically - either as an allrounder or as a specialist batsman - but it's ridiculous when it calls into question his right to a lofty ranking on the list of Australia's best batsmen. Watson is a high-class player of fast bowling, and while his penchant for quickfire 60s may not win games, it can set the team on the early road to victory. It's simple arithmetic: the longer bowlers have to take 20 wickets, the greater the chances of victory.

The Australian bowlers at the Gabba, particularly James Pattinson and Peter Siddle, displayed more passion than their South African counterparts. Pattinson and Siddle are both capable of explosive spells where they test the technique and temperament of the opposition batsmen, and there's a call for this style of bowling at the Adelaide Oval. It helps that Clarke, with his intuitive, proactive captaincy, is quick to sense the right time for such an onslaught.

Incredibly, after a pedestrian first day's bowling and a top-order collapse, Australia took the psychological honours from the drawn Brisbane Test. Clarke's captaincy, as much as his fluent strokeplay, was responsible for that tremendous turnaround, and a repeat performance in Adelaide will see Australia take the lead in the series.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist