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

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