South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 4th day February 23, 2014

Clarke's form under microscope


Australia's captain Michael Clarke faced the first pointed questions about his own batting form in the wake of his team's rapid surrender to South Africa in the second Test at St George's Park, a result that laid bare weaknesses obscured by the Ashes clean sweep and a resounding win in the opening match of the series at Centurion.

Clarke, who began his captaincy tenure with a blaze of runs, was unable to prevent the dramatic slide that had nine wickets fall after tea on day four to hand the match to Graeme Smith's team and leave the ledger square at 1-1 ahead of the final match at Newlands in Cape Town. He has not reached a score of better than 25 since a century in the first innings of the second Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval last year.

"Obviously I'd like to score a hundred every time I bat. I'm not looking forward to the next however many press conferences until I make a score over 25 or 50 or a hundred," Clarke said. "I have been there before. The one thing I will say is that in this game of cricket you have some great times and I remember those fondly.

"There are some tough times and it makes you enjoy the good times. Right now you're right, it is 11 innings since I've scored more than 25. I'm due."

Asked about Mark Taylor's run of 21 innings between half-centuries in 1996-97, which took the winning captain of the world's best side perilously close to losing his place, Clarke smiled. "I've got room to play," he said. "Hopefully we're not having this discussion in the next press conference."

Speaking more widely about his team's failure to cope with South Africa on a surface sharing much in common with those on which India and England had also prospered at home in 2013, Clarke said the batsmen needed to carry some burden for the result based upon a poor first innings showing.

"I think the common denominator when you are not winning is when you aren't bowling teams out for a low enough score or you aren't making enough runs as a batting unit," he said. "We play in different conditions around the world, we didn't have as much success as we would have liked in India, the wickets were slow and low and spun then we went to the UK and we didn't have much success there.

"Through my career we have played on green seamers where we haven't scored enough. I don't think it is about conditions, you need to pay credit to some great bowling from South Africa, we didn't make enough runs or bowl anywhere as well as we needed to in either innings we need to find a way to turn that around over the next few days and prepare for another Test match, a tough Test match and make sure we are at our best as we were seven days ago."

The hectic nature of the fourth day, as the tourists went from 152 for 1 to 216 all out as South Africa took the extra half-hour to seal the result, was largely the result of reverse swing conjured by Dale Steyn. Clarke noted that his own bowlers had struggled to gain the same kind of movement during the match, but did not wish to criticise those players who came in to bat when the ball was curving late.

"We knew the best time to bat in the second innings was going to be against the new ball," Clarke said. "People that don't know much about the game might think that when you are none for 120 you are in contention to win the game, but we knew the hardest period would be when the ball got old and you had to start your innings against reverse swing.

"I think you have seen a class spell of reverse swing bowling today from all three of the South African bowlers, certainly Dale Steyn. South Africa showed us how to get the ball reversing, we didn't get one to reverse in both innings so we can learn from that and as I said you saw a class bowler bowl consistently at 140 to 145kph and execute his skills as well as you will see in international cricket, so Dale Steyn deserves a lot of credit."

As for how the team can recover in time for Cape Town in five days' time, Clarke said he would draw on the confidence built over the course of the Ashes campaign at home and the opening win at Centurion. "I think the team is in a really good position at the moment in regard to how everybody feels," he said. "There's no doubt there's disappointment in the change room, we've just lost a Test.

"But in regard to the way we have been playing over the last 12 months, I think Cape Town is very exciting for us. This is a wonderful opportunity for this Australian team to see where we sit at the moment again the number one team. It's a great challenge and I can guarantee we'll be up for it, that's for sure."

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • peter on February 25, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Mark Taylor was in truly shocking form during his run of outs - he looked like he would never get any runs. And there were talented and experienced bats waiting in line for a spot. None of this applies to Clarke and Aus in 2014.

  • cobus on February 25, 2014, 6:50 GMT

    @leggie, what MaruthuDelft mentioned is relevant to the cricket. a society's issues does influence the mindset and selection. The fact is india is not as good as their supporters believe. it does not matter if a single test was won overseas if there is one series loss to the next. who was the last top 5 side to loose a series to nz?

  • Sudhakar on February 25, 2014, 2:07 GMT

    I'm sure the intensity of the ashes would have taken a toll on M.Clarke. Seeing his press conferences, one gets the feeling that he may tired physically and mentally - though he does find the success sweet. It's no mean achievement to come back after a 7-0 loss. He is a fine player and an individual that I admire. I hope he finds form and scores in the final test.

  • Sudhakar on February 24, 2014, 22:19 GMT

    @MaruthuDelft: your comment about the Indian society as a whole, in a forum where we discuss only about cricket, is in very poor taste!! I'm surprised how the moderator even let such a comment slip through. Your muddled thinking is rightly reflected by the "Sachin of early" and "Sachin of late" rants. Sachin's "early days" is 20+ years of international cricket and he has achieved everything in World cricket not to fade away into your so called "ordinary state"!!!

    @MasculineEffort, Indian fans have every right to expect better results from its national team. India's certainly got talent and that's amply evident from India's overseas wins in every Test playing nation between 2000 and 2011.

  • avid on February 24, 2014, 19:55 GMT

    time to drop clarke and bring in shane watson.. watson can bowl too, so he gives lot of balance to the team.. a little "rest" will do good to clarke

  • Patrick on February 24, 2014, 11:43 GMT

    Let's cool our jets folks, last week Smith's head was called for and Steyn was being slandered as past it, meanwhile Aust fans we're busy being arrogant. Many of us were just proud to beat No 1 but to be fair a few were well ahead of themselves. Is it any wonder selectors get erratic when the average punter knees themselves in the forehead ringing change following every test loss, in this case the first in 7 tests, one of many firsts in fact. The first dead slow pitch, the best attack, the first taste of having 'really' made it to the top of the hill perhaps.

  • G on February 24, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    Even against England in the whitewash, England were consistently making inroads into the aussie top order. David Warner, I don't know what he's stepped in, but he's giving a chance to the opposition every other over who in turn refuse to catch the ball and he survives - somehow he's getting some runs, but that good fortune will not last forever

  • Dummy4 on February 24, 2014, 9:18 GMT

    move on guys. this is classic great test series. let's see what happens in 3rd match then start criticizing any body.wait to end this series. it's epic series.

  • Dummy4 on February 24, 2014, 8:24 GMT

    Regardless of any sentiments expressed in previous posts, the simple fact is that Australia played poorly and South Africa played really well. After such a significant defeat, changes should be made. No point having a touring squad if those waiting don't get a go when the incumbents fail. Clarke has now failed 11 times in a row, and should go, but won't - captain's privilege, I suppose. But if he fails in the last Test, forget the microscope, it'll be the blowtorch! Sids looks tired and Rhino looks like his knees are troubling him - they both need a rest. Its now been 7 Tests for both in a very short time.Hughes for Doolan and Watson for Marsh. Back up Johnson with Patto and Bird (if he's there - is he?), or even Henriques. Be brave, Australia, cos its all or nothing now! Warner, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin, Johnson, Patto, Bird (or Henriques), Lyon

  • Varnendra on February 24, 2014, 8:17 GMT

    @Masculineffort, not just Indian fans but India have never been frank in their assessments. That is exactly why they are not able to produce anything world class. Even if something comes along such as Sachin of early it goes ordinary in due course like his batting of late. India don't understand the importance of being frank. In a society not so frank you can't really measure where you stand so that you can decide on actions to improve. For example Indian fans would make Kohli falsely believe he is the best so he would never reach the standards of AB De Villiers.

  • No featured comments at the moment.