South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 3rd day

Haddin and Smith run out of miracles

At some point, Australia's uncertain top order was going to cause trouble they could not recover from. Without two days of defiance, or perhaps help from the weather, Port Elizabeth will be that occasion

Daniel Brettig in Port Elizabeth

February 22, 2014

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Steven Smith loses control of a pull, South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 3rd day, February 22, 2014
Steven Smith made a confident 49 but, this time, could not haul Australia out of trouble © AFP
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Late in the afternoon Hashim Amla punched a tiring Ryan Harris through cover off the back foot, eluding the despairing dive of Steven Smith. As the ball sped away to the boundary, Smith punched the turf not once but twice, his irritation emblematic of the red mist descending on an Australian side now more or less at the mercy of South Africa. Smith could not be held personally responsible for this slide, having once again played a spiky innings with the tail. But there was a wider sense of Australia receiving their comeuppance this day, of earlier sins returning to haunt them by way of accumulation.

No matter how brazen Brad Haddin has been, how skilful Smith or how spirited the tail beneath them, Australia's middle and lower orders could not be expected to keep bailing out their batting brethren. As it was, the last six wickets still contributed significantly more than the first four, squeezing 165 runs to 81 and thus avoiding the possibility of the follow-on. It was a fair effort but not a miraculous one, and consigned Michael Clarke's team to some hours pondering their fates in the field.

Apart from the extraordinary pace of Mitchell Johnson, the Ashes sweep of England had been built primarily upon the batting rearguards of Haddin and Smith. Others had contributed, but nowhere near as pivotally as these two - Clarke, David Warner, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson ended the series with healthy tallies, but of those only Clarke notched a first innings century. At Centurion, the discrepancy was again evident but again obscured, this time by the efforts of Smith and Shaun Marsh from the unsteady platform of 98 for 4.

In the aftermath of the crushing victory that was ultimately reaped from that uncertain beginning, the Australians were bullish about the fact that they would not be troubled by this pattern. Clarke, when queried on his top order on match eve in Port Elizabeth, remarked that he was very happy with the way the batsmen had performed in the first Test, pointing to the hundreds of Smith, Marsh and Warner. Yet even amid their own introspection about an opening defeat, South Africa had enough reason to hope that if they could put Australia under pressure, they would be able to clatter through.

'Our shot selection was poor'

  • Australia's captain Michael Clarke admitted poor shot selection had played a part in his side's first innings downfall and acknowledged he needed second innings runs himself to ease out of a mounting streak of low scores.
  • "Credit where credit is due, I think South Africa bowled very well," Clarke said. "Having more than 400 runs on the board obviously helps and when you've got a period of about 25 overs to bowl you can certainly have a crack, give it everything they've got. I think they've just executed very well - and our shot-selection was poor.

  • "Unfortunately our top order didn't perform as well as we would have liked. It was an uphill battle today for the rest of our batters. We've got some work to do in the second innings that's for sure. I think the wicket has deteriorated a little bit but more than anything else it's staying low so we're going to have to make sure we're switched on in the second innings."

  • Clarke has not passed 25, let alone 50, since his first-innings hundred in the second Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval, and said his underwhelming scores did not reflect the way he was striking the ball.

  • "I feel the complete opposite, I feel in great nick. I felt sharp, I felt like my feet moved really well in the first innings against a pretty good attack with their tail up," Clarke said. "I haven't made as many runs as I would have liked but I feel like I'm working as hard as I have been, I'm hitting the ball sweet, I think my shot selection was extremely poor with my dismissal. I've got to be better than that. Hopefully in the second innings."

A long innings from Graeme Smith's men duly ensued, helped significantly by a St George's Park surface that lacked the spiteful bounce and pace of Centurion. If anything, its characteristics have more in common with those surfaces prepared in England last year, when Andy Flower devised a plan to blunt Australia's strengths on pacy pitches by compounding their weakness on slow ones. Patience is vital on such pitches, and there was too little of that on show when the tourists replied to 423.

The overnight tally of 112 for 4 from 25 overs illustrated a desire to keep the game moving, but the wickets column left an awful lot to be done. Warner, who had played edgily but boldly on the second evening, was intent on doing same when he resumed, but lacking early strike he miscalculated against Vernon Philander and nicked into the slips, where for once Smith held a catch. To lose Warner early was arguably the most important moment of the day, for his exit left too much for Smith and Haddin to do once more.

Haddin's aggression was critical to the destruction of England, though in four Tests out of five he did so batting first, and thus not looking up at a scoreboard showing a major differential to be made up. Throughout that series he was also aided by a liberal allocation of good fortune, whether through dropped catches, edges not going to hand or calculated gambles repeatedly paying off. They have not done so in South Africa so far. In Centurion a premature slog sweep gifted a wicket to Robin Peterson, and in Port Elizabeth a firm-footed attempt to drive against Dale Steyn's reverse swing resulted in middle stump lying flat on the ground.

Smith was more fluent, and fortunate when Peterson turfed a simple chance forward of square leg. But he too ran out of miracles, falling victim to a DRS review that the third umpire Aleem Dar went along with on quite flimsy circumstantial evidence. The on-field official Richard Illingworth had not been convinced, and the bemusement of Clarke and the coach Darren Lehmann at the reversal of the original verdict was plain for all to see. Nevertheless, wickets such as these often fall the way of the team making the running, and it was optimistic to expect Smith being able to conjure enough runs to reach first-innings parity in the company of Nos. 10 and 11.

Bowling a second time, the tourists were serviceable but handicapped by the match situation. The sight of Clarke moving a man to the legside boundary second ball of the innings after Smith's flick for four off Johnson spoke volumes for the priority being damage limitation as much as wicket-taking. Harris in particular looked tired and sore, his wonky knee creaking ever closer to the surgery scheduled for his return home. Johnson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon had their moments, but could not force a rush of wickets. Haddin's drop of a difficult chance from the silken Amla as the shadows grew long enhanced the sense that his golden summer was at an end.

That all means a major fourth innings salvage job for Australia, an assignment requiring plenty of steel from the batsmen if they wish to preserve their lead going into the final Test at Newlands. Two batsmen, Rogers and Clarke, look decidedly out of sorts, while Marsh and Alex Doolan are finding their way. The third day demonstrated that Smith and Haddin cannot be relied upon to produce telling innings every time, so another batsman or three must stand up over the next two days. Unless they can do so, and follow up more sturdily in Cape Town, Australia's pretensions to the throne of world's top team will remain just that.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 8:54 GMT)

Australia have one six in a row. Their last win was impressive. Their future will depend a lot on how they bounce back after this. They have definitely been outclassed here.

Of course, the match isn't over yet.

Posted by gujratwalla on (February 23, 2014, 7:46 GMT)

Time for the Clarke fans to see reality in the face.Even the great batsmen have had lean periods and Clarke is no exception.Quoting his past deeds cannot hide is present form!He has developed a weakness against the short pitched ball which was not there before.Broad realised that in England and SA know it too.Australia are a medicore batting side who will crumble Again in the second innings against Morkel.Lucky that Parnel is out of action but there is a Little matter called Steyn also....who is the best fast bowler in all type of conditions all over the World.Time the Aussies come to grip with the facts about themselves!

Posted by hogwarts_cricket on (February 23, 2014, 6:28 GMT)

Michael Clarke's Test Batting Stats in South Africa: M(7), 100's(1), Average(33.27). Infact his home record is way better than his overseas record. The Channel 9 commentary team keeps calling him the best batsman in the world. Vastly overrated.

Posted by Ducky610 on (February 23, 2014, 6:11 GMT)

All it takes is half a test for everyone to jump on a teams back... just 2 days ago everyone was sacking graeme smith, moving du plussei down the order, Morkel was tired, Philander was overated and SA were going to fade the way England did... Now Clarke is overated, Warner cant make first innings runs (funnily enough, he just did too), Johnson is inconsistent, Harris is tired and Steve Smith is lucky... No you all have very short memories and half a game doesnt make a team....

@paapam I believe SA did exactly what you said they wouldnt only one test ago? do you really expect Clarke to lay down and except SA are better? no this series isn't over; we arent as good as the media made out but SA aren't as far ahead of us as they think

Posted by JaneSays on (February 23, 2014, 6:05 GMT)

Michael Clarke is class, the rest will be gone in 12 months. Warner gets dropped 4 times every match, maybe he puts off the fielders

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 5:53 GMT)

of course Aussies swept England mainly due to, England's inability to contain low middle order, and their batsmen couldn't handle the pacy wickets. Aussies shouldn't have forgotten that they lack quality in the top order apart from Clarke. Yes their bowling has been good.. but now they are breaking apart as the number of games they've been playing.

Posted by disco_bob on (February 23, 2014, 5:48 GMT)

@moshec, it may have escaped your attention but fielding is very much one of the main disciplines of cricket. For all their batting and bowling woes the Australian have done a world class job at fielding, and taking their catches. Following your reasoning you may as well say that if Warne had taken the dolly off KP at lords Collingwood would not now have an MBE. For all of South Africa's domination in this test, they have been as appalling at taking catches as they were in the Centurion Test and conversely Australia have been as good as SA have been bad.

As far as coping bouncers go, Lyon has showed more bravery and MJ did not seem overly concerned. If the field was not a pudding, SA would have had half a dozen nicks caught. So all this 'would have' stuff is really just a load of nonsense isn't it. Except for one, and that is, if SA were really worthy of their No.1 ranking they would not have been completely humiliated in the first Test. The score is still 1-0.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 5:42 GMT)

I think this game is delicately poised; Rogers can't bowl himself every innings, Clarke is due and often brings his best when the cards are down, Haddin has had a quiet series so far. With it looking like Parnell is out for the match and no front line spinner in the team there's a lot of work for Steyn, Morkel and part timers. Runs are coming far easier as the game progresses (though so are the wickets). The aussies have made a habit of breaking records when noone expects them so chasing down 450+ could just be par for the course.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 5:41 GMT)

@Hello13 As others have said - Michael Clarke isn't in great form but you don't average 52 in Tests over 10+ years only cashing in on home strips. Bet against him to score 100 in the 3rd Test and see how you go.

Posted by Jagger on (February 23, 2014, 5:29 GMT)

@ Hello13 - Although your comments are known to have a tinge of being caustic and antagonistic for once you are close to being right. Clarkes back problem has hampered him greatly now and in the past.

But he still has a batting average higher than your Captain.

When you say our batting lacks quality though, you should remember that the undisputed greatest batsman to have ever played the game with an average of 99.94 was an Australian. The original little master.

Posted by millsy24 on (February 23, 2014, 5:25 GMT)

Clarke's captaincy overrated? Are you serious paapam? He is the one captain in world cricket at the moment that can make the game change. Cook (and Smith) both wait for something to happen, Clarke makes it happen. England and SA play not to lose, Clarke plays to win, massive difference right there. One thing I can guarantee is that unlike SA and their ridiculous blocking against India when they could, and should, have won that game, there is no way our Aussie bowlers will do that. If they lose this one, there is still another to go.

Posted by Aspraso on (February 23, 2014, 4:57 GMT)

Of late the Aussies have been enjoying the rub of luck -- so if Haddin & Smith have run out of miracles -- be sure there is someone else waiting to perform a miracle. There is still way to go (2 days) in this Test.

Posted by thozar on (February 23, 2014, 4:33 GMT)

@paapam, don't forget that Ryan Harris is not taking wickets and will soon feign an injury and sit out of the 3rd test. We don't want our impressive average to be ruined by playing tough tests now, do we? We will wait till we play England and New Zealand. We will skip tests against India and South Africa, lol. Cannot wait for the Aussies to continue their losing run. I support India but when India is not playing, I support any team playing against Australia. The ghosts of 2007-2008 Sydney will be laid to rest only when Oz becomes a mediocre cricket playing country like West Indies.

Posted by VivGilchrist on (February 23, 2014, 3:06 GMT)

A lot of criticism toward a team 1-0 up in the series. Let's remember if SA do win this Test it makes it 1-1. That means it's Equal going into the final Test. Considering they are playing the No1 team on their home turf, I really don't see what all the criticism is about.

Posted by disco_bob on (February 23, 2014, 2:21 GMT)

Daniel would anyone anywhere expect that Australia can carry on with top order batting fragility and expect Smith and Haddin to bail them out every single time it happens. This series is not about ascending to the world no. 1 it's about improvement against the world's no. 1 ranked team. We should not even be in a position where it is possible for us to fight for a draw, but we are due to the sluggish attritional first innings by SA, which is doubly surprising considering that this is a must win match. I don't think we have undone all the good work of the previous six matches any more than the result at Centurion turns SA into has beens.

However what we have seen is that SA vs Aust is the marquee cricket event in terms of passion not just from their supporters but from the neutrals as well. Hopefully there will be a crowd at Cape Town befitting the match this time.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 2:03 GMT)

It's funny reading articles like this... Suddenly Australia have a bad day or two and cricinfo jumps all over them like they are useless... They still lead this series don't forget

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 1:48 GMT)

I have to laugh at some of the comments people write on here, Clarke overrated? Who are you kidding, he's been one of the worlds best batsmen home and away for years, averages 50. Not 50 at home. A few low scores and you write him off, AUS smashed SA In the first test, and this is a sterner test of where they are at so let's see if they can pull of a hard fought draw. Smith will set defensive field placings as always, don't forget there's still one more test to play and it's anyone's series.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 0:36 GMT)

Criticisms of the Australian top order batsmen are not unreasonable, with the exception of Clarke. He has frequently demonstrated on all sorts of surfaces that he is one of the finest of his generation. One can argue whether he is better than the other top current batsmen, De Villiers, Amla and Sangakkara, but nonetheless, his credentials are well established. The problem Australia are having is that apart from a few recent victories, their batting has not been competitive when Clarke has failed.

As far as South Africa is concerned, there are some glaring weaknesses against fast bowling and good quality spin that other teams will be keen to exploit in the coming years as they try and consolidate their No. 1 ranking.

Posted by Shaggy076 on (February 23, 2014, 0:20 GMT)

PayPal; That weak England were #2 in the world. Johnson has only had one injury in his career. Try and get one fact right in your post otherwise it just looks like the post of someone extremely jealousof Australian success.

Posted by Shongololo on (February 22, 2014, 23:57 GMT)

Steve Smith hit it, the correct decision was made, end of story. I don't know what all the fuss is about, the theatrics of Boof and Clarke.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 23:51 GMT)

After winning the first test, all the Aussie commentators and Aus cricket team jumped up and down like school kids. I have not seen they are making similar noise when their backs are on to the wall after midway of the second test. Aussies are bad losers and should behave same way when winning and loosing

Posted by SCC08 on (February 22, 2014, 23:50 GMT)

@Ken McCarron - I disagree, half the Indian side ave 50 because of home dominance. Poor records away. But iget your point on Clarke, super player.

Posted by 5wombats on (February 22, 2014, 23:33 GMT)

@Hello13 on (February 22, 2014, 17:59 GMT).... "Michael Clarke, a vastly overrated batsmen who only performs well at home". Oh, really @hello13? How do you explain the 9 centuries he has scored outside of Australia then? Check your facts before you post such drivel.

Posted by StaalBurgher on (February 22, 2014, 23:10 GMT)

SA hasn't won the Test yet, apparently weather might intervene, and being a bowler down might still hurt a lot. Depends on how hard the Ozzies hold out. Elgar will have to have a bowl I suspect.

I do however find this article funny considering the deluge of praise for Oz/Johnson and their inevitable rise to no.1 from the media. Not to mention the excessive discussions as to why all of Amla, Steyn, Philander and Morkel are actually rubbish, that SA have just been lucky for the past 5 years and that finally a REAL no.1 can now take over.

Still a long way to go but I wonder what will be said if SA win the series 2-1.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 23:05 GMT)

Captain Flat Track Bully wont score any runs this series unless Johnson bowls SAF out for under 200 in the first of the third. Clarke, like Watson, doesn't make the hard runs.

Posted by Donian on (February 22, 2014, 21:17 GMT)

Yep, good call if I am reading the message correctly. The win in the first Test in SA, and the Ashes success, continue to cover up the fact that the batting line-up has not been right for a while. I suspect Rogers will be the next pawn to fall. One-off good scores should not be saving batsmen, as they too often have in the recent past.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

yes, yes, Clarke scores wherever the pitch is ..little... flat ...not only at home .. :-)

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 20:31 GMT)

The problem is that Australia have 3 number sixes in their lineup (Smith, Watson and Warner) and a captain who does his best batting at five. Lehman is aware of this issue, but he can't make too many changes at once, especially after six wins in the trot.

Posted by dan9 on (February 22, 2014, 20:15 GMT)

@ Hello13 - you must've missed his superlative knocks at Cape Town in 2011, Lords 2009 and Wellington in 2010 - oh, and he was also good enough to score 151 on debut in India a decade back. Don't let the facts get in the way of a prejudice eh.

Posted by paapam on (February 22, 2014, 20:00 GMT)

Very perceptive. A weak England attack let the Aussies get away time and again. No such favours forthcoming from the Springboks. Clarke's overrated captaincy will be expo0sed. Johnson inevitably break down. Siddle nothwithstanding the two wickets looks ordinary. 2-1 to SA unless the weather gods oblige.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 19:39 GMT)

@Hello13 doesn't have access to statistics - Clarke's performances in England and Inida for example have been exceptional and one of his best innings was played on the last tour of South Africa. You don't average 50 in test cricket by being only a home ground success.....

Posted by moshec on (February 22, 2014, 19:21 GMT)

Warner was dropped a couple of times, AUS could easily have been out for under 150 had SA not dropped catches and used drs correctly. much has been made of smith's wicket but no-one including the writer mentions that smith was out earlier in the day, given not out by umpire Sa failed to review and smith didn't walk after quite obviously having nicked it. Lovely also to see Johnson felled by a couple of bouncers by Morkel. SA will declare once lead crosses 450 and will struggle to win with Parnell out. Will need to take every chance that comes there way, happy that SA have finally stood up and showed who is the best side in the world yet again.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 18:38 GMT)

Whenever Australia's back have been against the wall, they have performed. Thus this might be the challenge their batsman were looking for. So it is the right time for them to prove the critics wrong. They do have the ability to counter the South Africa attack as they showed in first test match and can do so again.

Posted by   on (February 22, 2014, 18:27 GMT)

The cracks in the team are being explored pretty well by the South Africans but Australia have the quality to fightback. The top order needs to perform and unless the openers put up at least a 100 run stand between them Australia is pretty far from being the formidable side they were before (though the likes of Smith and Haddin and one of the other batsman performing occasionally could give them the No.1 spot).

Posted by Hello13 on (February 22, 2014, 17:59 GMT)

The australian batting order lacks quality. The perfect example is Michael Clarke, a vastly overrated batsman who only performs well at home.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
Tour Results
South Africa v Australia at Centurion - Mar 14, 2014
Australia won by 6 wickets (with 30 balls remaining)
South Africa v Australia at Durban - Mar 12, 2014
Australia won by 5 wickets (with 2 balls remaining)
South Africa v Australia at Port Elizabeth - Mar 9, 2014
Match abandoned without a ball bowled
South Africa v Australia at Cape Town - Mar 1-5, 2014
Australia won by 245 runs
South Africa v Australia at Port Elizabeth - Feb 20-23, 2014
South Africa won by 231 runs
More results »
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