South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 2nd day November 10, 2011

Clarke slams 'disgraceful' batting

Michael Clarke has labelled the shot selection from Australia's batsmen as "disgraceful" on a day when they narrowly avoided being dismissed for the lowest Test total of all time. His predecessor Ricky Ponting faced some tough days at the office but Clarke was left hoping he never endures a worse one than this, his 16th as full-time Test captain, when Australia were dismissed for 47.

On one of the most remarkable days in modern Test history, Australia skittled South Africa for 96 and then suffered a horrendous collapse, falling to 21 for 9 on a pitch that was not as bad as the figures suggest. The lowest total in Test history was New Zealand's 26 against England in Auckland in 1955, and only some late fight from Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon pushed Australia past that humiliation.

Clarke cut a slightly despondent figure as he faced the media at the end of the day, but there was a glimmer of hope, with South Africa needing the second-highest successful chase at Newlands to secure victory. All the same, he was at a loss to explain Australia's capitulation, especially after his own first-innings century.

"All I can say is the top seven of us, as a batting unit, have to take responsibility for what just occurred," Clarke said after play. "It's certainly not good enough and me as the leader, especially after coming off a good first-innings total, certainly need to take the blame.

"There was enough in the wicket when it was overcast, but our shot selection was disgraceful, we nicked everything in sight, any half lbw was given out, I can make a million excuses - the facts are we should not have been all out for 47. The top seven, we did not execute our skills well.

"A lot of times in my career, as I just said to the boys in the change-rooms, the bowlers seemed to get criticised for us losing games of cricket, but I can guarantee you we have done nothing but put ourselves under pressure because of our batting performance in this second innings."

On the first day, Dale Steyn attacked Clarke with bouncers in an effort to "cut off the head" of Australia's batting. On the second day, the batsmen behaved like headless chickens, but they had done the lopping themselves.

Brad Haddin and Michael Hussey were especially guilty of throwing their wickets away with reckless flashes outside off stump, while Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson were lbw to straight balls they should not have missed. Of the top-order men, Clarke and Phillip Hughes fell to the best deliveries, while the injured Shaun Marsh, who batted at No.10, was unlucky to be lbw to one that stayed low.

"The batters are disappointed," Clarke said. "We've just had a ten-minute chat as a team in regards to every single one of us putting our hands up and trying to explain the errors we made, to face the music, to accept the reality that we are responsible. There's nobody else to blame. Our top seven batters are as good as any top seven batters in the world, in my opinion. So today is ... unbelievable."

The way Clarke trailed off in that response betrayed how shattered he was, while for the rest of the post-match press conference he appeared composed. It was not a day he will forget, nor one he hopes to repeat.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo