South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 4th day February 15, 2014

South Africa's bruises won't fade quickly

The bowling of Mitchell Johnson has made many people sit up and take notice, leading to comparisons with the very best. South Africa have now had their first-hand experience and it has been a chastening affair

Cullinan: SA's batting looked out of depth

The closest Ali Bacher came to Sylvester Clarke's bowling was watching it, but the thought of the West Indian quick still makes him shudder. Clarke collected four five wicket-hauls on 1983-84 rebel tour and Bacher regarded him as the deadliest paceman around.

At tea time on Saturday, as Bacher contemplated the mess the South African line-up was in, largely at the hands of Mitchell Johnson, he made a confession. "I haven't seen bowling like that - I am talking real, lethal fast bowling - since Sylvester Clarke," he said.

Neither have South Africa, in a very long time. The last time a bowler claimed 12 wickets in a match against them was eight years ago when Muttiah Muralitharan did it in Sri Lanka which was the last series South Africa lost away from home. The only other bowlers to inflict the same damage on them since readmission are Matthew Hoggard, whose haul came in the 2004-05 series which South Africa also lost, and Shane Warne in 1994.

If you are the superstitious type, you may read something into Johnson's 12 at Centurion Park. Even if you are not, his performance will have an impact beyond statistics and you only needed to see the look in Bacher's eye to know that.

Johnson sliced through South Africa the way a blade goes through a perfect fillet steak. He cut through the quivering hunk of meat, showing no mercy to the tendons and muscle fibres that once held it together and exposed sparsely cooked flesh. If inflicted some serious bruises and whether those heal in the next five days will determine how well South Africa come back in this series.

They are not even sure how bad the eventual black and blue marks will be. It will take a few days for the scarring to really show, as it always does. So for now, it is brave faces, disappointment and the intention not to turn one defeat into a crisis. As Graeme Smith said, "we've lost a game of cricket." But it is how they lost that may give South Africa some sleepless nights.

Their top order, a quartet of strength, was decimated. Smith has been a Johnson-bunny before so he would have expected to be targeted and like he did against Zaheer Khan last year, he will have to find a way to get around Johnson. He only needs to think of how he combated Zaheer, by not closing the face of the bat too early, to realise it can be possible. Johnson is a vastly different bowler to Zaheer so the technical aspects will be different but if Smith consults with the right people they may be able to come up with something.

Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis showed signs of being able to adjust and both have the record to suggest their lapses will not extend into runs of poor form. Amla's mental strength has been tested since the day he started playing Test cricket. He has shown impenetrable qualities, proving doubters wrong all along and establishing himself as a figure of calm. That will come through again. Du Plessis' experience is far less but his two marathon innings to save games remain fresh in the mind. Hopefully his mind as well.

The concerns then are over Alviro Petersen and lower down, where JP Duminy has also struggled. Petersen was out to Johnson twice, the second time playing a less poor shot than the first but his tentativeness was still evident. When he endured a bad run against Pakistan it was a struggle to turn it around. He needs to make sure it does not this time. Duminy's talent is there for all to see but he fails to translate it time and time again. He has to work on not giving it away, something that is difficult when you know what is coming from the other end.

They are not even sure how bad the eventual black and blue marks will be. It will take a few days for the scarring to really show, as it always does

For that, the whole line-up only needs to look at Ryan McLaren. Felled by a delivery from Johnson, McLaren was bleeding from behind the ear and Smith said he looked "like he had been in a scrum with Victor and Bakkies," referring to the two South African lock forwards. That is the damage Johnson can do. No matter how much South Africa want to ignore it, they will not be able to. The image will be in the newspaper, the replays will be on television and YouTube and the memory will be in the mind.

The most important thing for them to do before they get to Port Elizabeth is develop what AB de Villiers said was an ability to "get over the fear of being hit." Maybe that will be scheduling a few sparring session with the Hekkie "The Hexecutioner," Budler, the home-grown WBA strawweight champion of the world. Maybe it means watching replays of the time Johnson struck Jacques Kallis in Durban 2008 until they no longer squirm at the visuals and realise that if this country's best cricketer could wear it, so can they. Maybe it is just about more time to prepare for the inevitable.

And the batsmen are not the only people Johnson will have left his mark on. The bowlers, particularly Dale Steyn, will be watching him in envy. Before this series the battle between Steyn and Johnson was seen as the one which would headline the contest. After one round, Johnson is well ahead of Steyn. South Africa's spearhead did not bowl badly - far from it - but he was not the main attraction and that is something he will not be used to.

His supporting acts, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, were also backstage characters. Morkel is used to that, having being South Africa's unheralded hero on many an occasion but Philander may not like it.

He has not reached No. 1 by accident, and could be back to the fore as soon as next week. He will be desperate to lift, if only to show that he is still the top ranked bowler in the world, despite what Johnson did to South Africa over the last four days and not, as one Australian smirked "as much of a No.1 as South Africa's team is at the moment."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • G on February 17, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    @ModernUmpiresPlz, you are stating the obvious/ apparent or whatever. Johnson was all over the place, and infact out of the team not so long ago. point is , hitting the top of off is difficult, and not many can do it. pace cant be coached too. SA has pace in Morkel, DeLange and of course Steyn. point is intimidation and not about accuracy. it's about letting the batsmen know that you can hit him. you may not be very accurate, but you should always let the batter know that you got the tools to hurt him.speed and intent. so to SA, go out; take your chances; hurl at them with intent to hurt. attitude should be, if you want to play hardball, nice you are in the right country. to me SA has to physically hurt the Aussies to salvage the series. how to do it is simple hurl at the body at speed. well you got speed don't you.

  • ShankarNarayanan on February 17, 2014, 10:12 GMT

    I think MJ was wonderful. But the reason why SA lost was not bad batting alone. I think the Trio of Steyn, Morkel and Philander should shoulder more than 70% of the responsibility for this defeat. People who followed these teams know that it is the bowlers who were going to call the shots. I think Steyn and Co were well below their best when compared to MJ&Co. I dont think Australia batted SA out of the game. SA bowled themselves out of the game. When Ind vs SA at Wanderers, Steyn was below par and the match was almost lost. Come Durban, day 2 morning, one devastating spell and India loses the test. See where I am coming from, scarring etc are good noises to make but it is in SA Bowlers hand. Please see top order stats for Aus against England. They were always 100 to 150 for 5 in almost all games in the first innings. With Steyn on Fire a repeat of 47 all out can very well be on the cards. Dont lose heart SA. Focus on Steyn and Philander.

  • indian cric on February 17, 2014, 6:24 GMT

    0-3, definitely. There is no way SA is coming back into this series. Besides they have lost every series against AUS at home. The only difference this time would be a white wash.

  • Simon on February 17, 2014, 2:49 GMT

    Why do Captains feel they need to walk in to the media's trap at pressers?

    Smith's comment that Johnson doesn't worry them and anyway, most of his wickets are tailenders is so easily disproved that Smith looks foolish making them. Even if he isn't talking about this Test where he took the 1st 3 in the 1st Inn & the 1st 2 in the 2nd - including Smith himself TWICE, then he can't be talking about the recent Ashes where Johnson made the break through in every Test. He can't be talking about previous Tests against the South Africans either as Johnson has carved through their top order in every series he's played. Why make a comment like that? Smith knows as well as anyone that his own spearhead - Steyn - not only wrecks top orders, but on instruction from Smith himself, mops up tails. That's the way Captains use strike bowlers now & for ever! He'd have been better sticking with the line of making a plan to combat pace, rather than the crazy tailender comment.

  • Dale on February 17, 2014, 0:58 GMT

    It's Johnson technique that makes him so dangerous not just his speed. Others bowl just as quick - but he bowls left arm with a low arm action - from quite wide on the crease. This means the bowl is coming quickly, from an angle that batsman are not use to. And like the SA coach has said it also means, the bounce is a little inconsistent and can really fly up of the pitch. However all this means that the more good batsman face Johnson the more they will get use to him. Even England handled him a little better as the Ashes went on.

  • Peter on February 17, 2014, 0:04 GMT

    @jb633 I had the extreme pleasure of watching Shoaib bowl in the Sydney grade competition for Mosman (Brett Lee's team when he guested for a month) in front of about 50 people & he didn't hold back there either. I was glad I only ever got to 2nd grade, let me tell you! Reading Waugh's book confirmed his respect for him as an out & out fast bowler, although personally, I preferred Akram.

  • Jon on February 16, 2014, 16:41 GMT

    @ChrisP, Yeah it wasn't consistent i am just commenting that he did have spells of brilliance. A spell he bowled at Lahore (although it says Colombo on youtube) was described by Gilchrist and Steve Waugh as the fastest and most hostile they ever faced. You are right that he wasn't consistent but over his career neither has Mitch been. Mitch is in tremendous form atm and if he can stay consistent for a couple of years people will put him into the great category no doubt.

  • Mashuq on February 16, 2014, 16:39 GMT

    Clarke was as mean as Croft and as likely to hit you as Roberts and Marshall. It's a good comparison, as I can attest. Mitch gets direct hits mainly because of poor technique. SAF need to calm down and show better judgment, like ABdV.

  • Satish on February 16, 2014, 16:23 GMT

    The SA team didn't look like a top team even when India visited late last year. This only confirms it! There is no real top test team at the moment. The top 3-4 teams are good when playing in conditions that suit them.

  • Dummy4 on February 16, 2014, 15:35 GMT

    Once the new ball can be negotiated it should get "easier" to score. The dangerous bit is in the beginning, with the ball new and hard and being assisted by the pitch. Smith is an opening batsman of sound technique, Alviro Petersen not, I'm afraid. SA need to find another opener who maybe doesn't score many runs, but is able to weather the storm of Johnson's new ball - in this way, this batsman will actually make it possible for those lower down to score. This is the role of a true test opener. In addition I'd at least consider Beuran Hendricks if for no other reason that he'll add variation to the quicks in his being LH-ed, sorry for McLaren who I like a lot. No massive changes required, just these tweaks. Robbie Petersen, while no Shane Warne, is valauable in the team - Alviro not.

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