Clarke not entirely satisfied after series win
Michael Clarke has not lost a series since taking over as Australia's captain after the World Cup, but he is still not a fully satisfied man. Instead of grinning after his 2-1 triumph over South Africa, he frowned and even gave way to a grunt when asked to assess his stint as captain after his third, successive away series victory.
"We set out to win every game," Clarke said. "We didn't do that in Sri Lanka and we didn't do that here." The place they did do it was Bangladesh, just a few weeks after they were unable to defend the World Cup they had held since 1999. That clean sweep was not unexpected but Clarke is not a man of half measures and he wanted to accomplish the same even where doing so would be more challenging.
After Australia blitzed through an undercooked South Africa in the first match, it seemed they were on track for all three wins. South Africa, however, wrested back a victory with an equally commanding performance in Port Elizabeth. To bounce back from that comprehensive beating to win the series left Clarke feeling good about his team, even if he wasn't 100% satisfied. "Tonight's another indication of how we've been working our backsides off to be the best we can be."
Under cloudy skies, with moisture in the air and an unusually slower and lower pitch, both sides had to make adjustments to their approaches with the bat. South Africa struggled through the middle periods, with JP Duminy in particular unable to play shots freely. "The wicket was very dry and there was more grass cut off it," Clarke said. "I think it was probably ready to play on two days ago and the groundsman did that in preparation for rain."
With only Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis able to adapt, South Africa ended with a below-par total. Clarke said it was not just the surface that inhibited the hosts, but the quality of the bowlers they had to face. "Xavier Doherty bowled really well throughout the series and he probably didn't get as many wickets as he deserved," he said. "But he got two big wickets and really slowed the scoring down."
Clarke also singled out 18-year-old Patrick Cummins for coming back after being hit for 16 runs by Hashim Amla, to end with an economy-rate of under five. "To get off to a start like that and pull it back like that showed a lot of character," Clarke said.
Australia's discipline, exceptional change of pace and tight lines and lengths proved the difference between the two sides, as South Africa's seamers were unable to tie Australia down in the same fashion. Johan Botha was, by some distance, the best South Africa frontline bowler and was able to dictate the passages of play in which he bowled. His sensational first spell, in which he generously flighted the ball and sent through a good mix of quicker and flatter balls, saw him rewarded with the wicket of Ricky Ponting. He conceded twice as many runs in his second spell but still ended with figures that were worthy of a victory, although he was not on the winning side.
Gary Kirsten, South Africa's coach, also believed the match was decided with the ball. "It boiled down to who bowled better. We were probably just one wicket out," he said. "If we picked up another wicket and they still needed 70 or 80 runs we would have been in there. All our batsmen felt they really struggled to score freely."
A low-scoring encounter may tell the same tale, but there was evidence that the pitch did not play as poorly as South Africa's middle order made it look. Shane Watson got Australia's chase off to a rollicking start and was able to time his shots with ease. After recovering from back spasms, Watson performed with both bat and ball and said his aggression upfront was part of the game plan. "I know my role at the top of the order is to make it easier for the guys coming later on," he said. "I felt I hit the ball well and I was disappointed not to go and get a bigger score."
It was Michael Hussey who steered Australia home after some wobbles which could have turned into something more serious. Clarke said although there were nerves jangling in the change-room, knowing that "Mr Cricket" was at the crease eased them. "Huss is certainly a freak," he joked. We've seen it a number of times in all forms of the game. He manages to find a way to be there at the end and to get us home."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent