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March 4, 2009
South Africa's coach Mickey Arthur is confident that his team has worked out Australia's two newest batsmen Phillip Hughes and Marcus North, both of whom starred in the visitors' 162-run win in Johannesburg. South Africa must turn around their form for Friday's second Test in Durban to have any chance of winning the series and claiming the No. 1 Test ranking.
Arthur knows that the key is a more consistent bowling effort after Australia were allowed to post 466 in the first innings at the Wanderers. North made 117 in his first Test innings while his fellow debutant Hughes fought out 75 in the second innings despite being severely tested by short bowling from Dale Steyn and his colleagues.
"We had the strategy to Hughes," Arthur said. "We know he scored very much square of the wicket, we know he wasn't comfortable under the short ball. We knew that going into the Test and we didn't see too much of it in the first innings but come the second innings he got stuck in and that just confirmed what we already knew about him. We confirmed we were on the right track."
However, it is a tactic that won't unsettle Hughes, who has been facing nasty bouncers since he was a child playing against much older men in rural New South Wales. He said thoroughly enjoyed the stoushes with Steyn and Morne Morkel, who is a full foot taller than the 170-centimetre Hughes.
"I love it. I love them to come hard at me," Hughes said after his debut. "I'm only a short left-hand opening batsman. They like to come in pretty hard but I love that challenge. I'm sure I'm going to get more of it and I can't wait."
Arthur said his men had also figured out the best way to attack North, who was much more solid at the crease than the slightly unpredictable Hughes. In the second innings North was undone by a straight ball that kept low and Arthur felt his bowlers had erred in the first innings by given him too much width.
"Marcus North closes himself off a little bit, gets that head outside off stump," Arthur said. "We think we were probably a bit wide to him in the first innings. We think we've got strategies that can undermine Marcus North. I was very impressed with his debut, I thought he was very, very good but we'll be far better prepared in terms of what we've seen from him now to execute our game-plans against him."
Part of the bowling problem was the unpredictability of Morkel, who bowled a few stunning deliveries like the sharp bouncer that had a fending Simon Katich caught behind in the second innings, but leaked too many runs. Morkel went at more than four an over in both innings and struggled to find a consistent length.
He was also chastised by Arthur for his disappointing batting efforts at No. 8. In the first innings Morkel was caught and bowled when he miscued an attempted pull but it was in the second innings that he really let his team down, also caught when his pull lobbed limply to midwicket when the lower order was trying to salvage a draw.
"Batting-wise it was disappointing," Arthur said. "We've chatted about it so I'm not talking behind his back. To get out the same way was disappointing. We see a lot of potential in Morne as a batter though. He's just got to work his game up.
"With the ball he is so exciting. We're going to see some really good spells and we are going to see some ordinary spells. We've got to realise he's probably a year behind Dale in terms of development as a quick bowler. We're going to have to live through the ordinary spells because in between there's been some very, very good spells as well."
Morkel will hold his place for the Test at Kingsmead, where Arthur was confident his extra bounce could be a key factor. It means the only question for South Africa is whether to hand a debut to Morkel's brother Albie, who has joined the 12-man squad, or stick with the spinner Paul Harris, at a venue where South Africa have not played a specialist slow man in their past two Tests.
"I'm not ruling out any option at the moment," Arthur said. "It is likely that we will play the spinner. We've played a spinner throughout our last successful period of 18 months. I think our spinner has been quite an integral part of our attack.
"Overhead conditions will play a major role on the morning of the game. The amount of grass that gets taken off the wicket will play quite an important role. I'm not ruling out the option but if all things are equal I'm pretty sure we'll play the spinner."
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