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Nobody at Newlands will forget this Test. The 15 players in Australia's squad must try. They should learn from their terrible batting, but they must also move on. Quickly
November 11, 2011
All losses hurt. Some cause lasting damage. Michael Clarke's challenge is to make sure Australia's crushing defeat in Cape Town, which he described as the most disappointing of his career, does not leave them psychologically scarred ahead of next Thursday's second Test in Johannesburg.
This was one of the great Test matches of all time; nobody who was at Newlands on the second day, or even on the third, will forget it. The 15 players in Australia's squad must try. They should learn from their terrible batting, but they must also move on. Quickly.
It is impossible to imagine how the Australians felt on the second afternoon, when they dismissed South Africa for 96 and were then bowled out for 47, their lowest Test total in 109 years. Even Graeme Smith said it was the sort of scorecard he hadn't seen since he was a young schoolboy.
The following morning, the Australians appeared to still be in a daze. In the third over of the third day - the scheduled halfway point of the match had not even arrived - Shane Watson dropped a catch at slip and Australian shoulders slumped. They knew they were in trouble.
The pain of being humiliated with the bat increased exponentially with every boundary that rocketed off the face of Smith's bat, every delivery that was caressed through a gap by Hashim Amla.
Watson is capable of Smith-like power, so is Ricky Ponting. Clarke can find gaps like Amla, as can Michael Hussey. The pitch had not changed overnight. In the field, Australia's batsmen looked at each other quizzically. How come we didn't play like this? Nobody had the answer.
That's the mental hole the Australians must lift themselves out of before they take the field at the Wanderers next week. There could be, should be, changes to the team, but the gloomy mood will affect the whole squad, not just the XI who took the field.
"Today is going to be tough," Clarke said after the match. "If you don't feel the pain here, you'll never feel the pain and you're playing the wrong sport, for the wrong team. If there's one person in that change room with a smile on their face ... every single one of us needs to be disappointed, for good reason.
"There's also the other side that in this great game you need to find a way to get back up. Good teams do. That's how they learn and I think throughout my career, I've learnt from the not-so-good days, more than the good days. That's what I'm hoping everyone in that change room does, find something so when we get into a position like we did in that second innings with the bat, or today with the ball, we go about it in a different way."
But what made the batting performance even harder to swallow was that the major culprits included some of the most experienced members of the side. Men who, according to Clarke's theory, should already have learnt the lessons of previous dark days.
Days like July 21, 2010, when five members of the current Australian team were part of a side that was swung and seamed out for 88 against Pakistan at Headingley. Days like December 26, 2010, when nine of the men who took the field at Newlands were part of a team that was bowled out for 98 by England at the MCG.
This loss, Clarke said, topped them all.
"Probably not," Clarke said, when asked if he had played in a more disappointing defeat. "The performance with the bat, I've never experienced - not that bad, not 9 for 21. The lowest Test score ever is 26, so we needed No.10 and 11 to save our backsides there. That's unacceptable. I've never been more disappointed, in my own performance in the second innings, but the result... I'm hoping that's as poor as it gets in my career.
"Today is important. The rest of today is about looking in each other's eyes and having the courage to admit where you let yourself and the team down. We've obviously got a lot of work to do in all facets of the game to get ourselves as right as we can for this second Test. We still have a chance to level the series. That will definitely be our goal before we get on the plane back to Australia."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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