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

Clarke's form under microscope

Daniel Brettig in Port Elizabeth

February 23, 2014

Comments: 44 | Text size: A | A

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.

Michael Clarke looks back after edging to second slip, South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 4th day, February 23, 2014
Michael Clarke: 'Right now you're right, it is 11 innings since I've scored more than 25. I'm due' © Getty Images

"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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Posted by litchfield 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.

Posted by kcr_ 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?

Posted by Leggie 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.

Posted by Leggie 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.

Posted by dabbadubba 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

Posted by pat_one_back 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.

Posted by Yevghenny 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

Posted by   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.

Posted by   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

Posted by MaruthuDelft 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.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 24, 2014, 8:02 GMT)

Let's drop the only Australian batsman who currently averages over 50. Good idea. We can replace him with.... someone worse with no experience whatsoever. That'll surely fix it.

Posted by Masculineffort on (February 24, 2014, 7:45 GMT)

One loss and all these negative comments from Aussie Cricket Fans! How spoiled can you be? What a bunch of Brats. Are these fans or glory hunters. Indian Fans may be delusional (they really believe their team is world class....hahaha), Saffer fans may be Jingos (and a touch delusional as well) but these Aussie fans take the cake with their attitude of entitlement.

Posted by S.Jagernath on (February 24, 2014, 6:52 GMT)

@Ajanthan Shantirathnam.Which players are in the Indian team for years without scoring a century?I suspect you mean Sachin Tendulkar right?Well,when you already have 51 behind you,I guess you get a little leeway.The best part of this test was Michael Clarke's expression when Dean Elgar got the last wicket,made me quite happy!

Posted by ShutTheGate on (February 24, 2014, 6:47 GMT)

@ PrasPunter I was thinking the same.

At least we could train for it by getting a two piece ball and scuffing up a side on purpose and bowling with it in the nets.

I also wonder is it possible for Australia to prepare a slow low wicket somewhere for the Aussies to train on.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2014, 5:28 GMT)

Don't tell me that there is a better batsman in Australia than Michael Clarke.

Posted by PrasPunter on (February 24, 2014, 5:28 GMT)

"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" - Other than Watson, none of our bowlers are able to reverse the ball - Is it that difficult to coach how to reverse it ? If bowlers from SA, Eng, india all can reverse it, wondering why on earth can't our bowlers do it !! Hope it is not rocket science !!

Posted by Sir_Ivor on (February 24, 2014, 4:34 GMT)

Dale Steyn is one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. He has everything needed in terms of skills and then the self discipline of a monk. It is no shame to have been thrashed by such a champion and his group. It is just that Australia does not have any batsman other than Rogers who belongs to the old school.This win will show that the last Test was truly an aberration. Johnson got what was a bit more than due because the wicket played a big part. When it comes to fast bowling it is all about the ability to use your skills according to the wicket and the batting of the opposition. At the Wanderers, Steyn was off colour. Here it was the Steyn we all know. An absolute wizard.

Posted by choo_for_twenty_choo on (February 24, 2014, 4:16 GMT)

Australia's batting defficiencies against seaming and reversing balls have been glaringly obvious for many years now.With so many batting coaches on offer, why can't the top and middle order address this? Is it a conincidence that the only Aussie batsman who seemed to have the technique to cope is the same one who spent many Northern summers successfully plundering English county attacks? Conversely, why can't the Aussie bowlers learn to reverse swing the ball like other quality attacks can? Both are glaring faults that will stop the Aussie team from ascending much less maintaining #1 Test Team status.

Posted by thekidisback on (February 24, 2014, 3:40 GMT)

Clarke struggled in England before the Ashes Whitewash in Australia so his bad form was hidden. He is a liability to a side with few consistent batsmen.

Posted by electric_loco_WAP4 on (February 24, 2014, 3:00 GMT)

@Neeraj-No offence meant but,'Eng,Ind are top teams'!Since when mate?You're not serious?Maybe you refer to the 6-8 months they 'dominated' the rankings @ no.1 in midst of getting w/w multiple times.-:)Agree with all else you said.Aus has nothin to lose.

Posted by Maroubra_Flyer on (February 24, 2014, 2:45 GMT)

Good comments fair play 1 and Neeraj Sunariya. I think Clarke has relaxed mentally after carrying the side for so long and due to others taking up the slack. I'd expect him to come back big time next test as he's shown in the last few years that he responds well to challenges.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2014, 2:36 GMT)

The other good point to keep in mind is how exceptional the bowling was - especially to Smith and Haddin. Even Steyn's lead-up balls to Clarke's dismissal were great.

Was funny how many people [many English supporters] were saying 'why didn't / couldn't Smith, Haddin & Co. bat like that against the English?

Simple: did anyone English paceman bowl a spell as brilliant and as devastating as Steyn?

Credit where credit is due: Amla and AB are class acts, and SA out-bowled the Aussie quicks.

Posted by   on (February 24, 2014, 2:11 GMT)

It's amazing MC is questioned about his form. I just saw he made couple of centuries in the ashes. So many batsmen in India and Sri Lanka will survive for years without a century for over few years but this AUS team sets high standards.

Posted by daisy1 on (February 24, 2014, 1:57 GMT)

Australia's batting line up isn't near as good as they think they are. Up against a decent attack they will struggle. Also claims of the best bowling attack in the world were exposed as crap.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (February 24, 2014, 1:45 GMT)

Michael Clarke is a class batsman, no doubt, but I do think that some people got a bit excited when he went through a purple patch a while back. He made several big scores in the period of a year or so and was undoubtedly the best batsman in the world at the time based on output and quite possibly raw performance too. That was not likely to last though and he fell back to being just one of a number of very good batsmen, perhaps looking a bit better than he was because everyone else in the Australian lineup was inconsistent at best. Now he's going through a tough patch, people will start to ask questions. Just as his ridiculously good form came to and end, so will his current ordinary form. He's easily top 10 and probably top 5 material so he'll be back. Maybe he needs to be the beneficiary of some dropped catches instead of his team-mates so that he can get going.

Posted by wellrounded87 on (February 24, 2014, 1:06 GMT)

@fair_paly_1 Normally i'd agree but the problem with Clarke is his bad back, sooner or later it's going to take it's toll on him and a poor run of form could spell the end of his career. Same goes for Haddin and Rogers because of their age. Lot of problems still to face for the Aussies.

It was always wishful thinking to think we'd run over SA in SA. Centurion was good but SA are a class side that will always find a way to fight back. Hopefully Cape Town is an exciting close contest so far both tests have been pretty one sided for each team.

Posted by shetto on (February 24, 2014, 0:11 GMT)

What do the selectors expect - they chose two batsmen in Marsh and Doolan who have both had inconsistent form averaging about 30 in the Sheffield Shield and no surprise they are averaging about 30 and performing inconsistently on this tour.

Maybe if they went with someone who was averaging around 60 like Phil Hughes Australia would be looking being up two nill in the series by now. What happened to the days where Australian selectors would chose test batsmen on form(not ODI ot twenty20 form).

Posted by bjcm12 on (February 24, 2014, 0:10 GMT)

Yesterday Steyn was unplayable - that's all !

Posted by TheTrueView on (February 24, 2014, 0:03 GMT)

" Form is temporary but class is permanent" most banal thing coined to save one's backside or that of whom you support. Sometimes it is valid,most times not so.

Posted by disco_bob on (February 23, 2014, 23:58 GMT)

The Cape Town match is not a battle for the no. 1 position, even the WACA match with technically WAS a battle for the no. 1 position, in reality not a battle for no. 1 either. To be 1-1 after two matches is already a good result, consisting of one outstanding performance and one 'more of the same' performance, rather than say two 'more of the same performances'. It is a good thing that the match finished yesterday, giving both sides extra time to prepare for the final showdown. All Australians want to see is some application. You cannot fault Warner because he did his job, the problem lay as always in our 3 and 4 position. I think Watto will be back in place of Marsh but personally I'd like to see us stick with both Marsh and Doolan now that they are in. If Marsh fails again then he can be done and dusted, Watto is already a known quantity. Maybe Hughes can come in for Marsh and bat at six till the top spot is ready, he did well in the Ashes with his obdurate 83*

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

Taylor should have been dropped during that run of bad scores anyway. #backdoordeals

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 22:37 GMT)

Its a bit contrite to start haranguing Clarke about his batting form when this is the first loss in 7 matches, Won 6 on the trot and lose one and now suddenly Clarke is in the firing line for his batting. No one cared about his batting when Aus was winning now suddenly his batting his a 'problem'.

Posted by Barnesy4444 on (February 23, 2014, 22:34 GMT)

Clarke will score heavily again, soon. He is a class act, a good next step would be to move back up to number 4.

Posted by drdickdixon on (February 23, 2014, 22:18 GMT)

You often hear the phrase "Good teams don't become bad ones overnight" in sport. Here's evidence of the reverse.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 22:08 GMT)

Clarke has been out of form for a while now. Of course when you keep winning that gets overlooked. Its when you start losing like now that the spotlight will be on him if he doesnt start producing again.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 22:02 GMT)

No issue over Clarke, a class act. 1-1, this is why we need 5 Tests!

Posted by Ms.Cricket on (February 23, 2014, 21:59 GMT)

Micheal Clarke's place in the sude should be reviewed as much as he always reviews Shane Watson's place in the side. If he doesn't get runs, he should be dropped. Everyone is equal.

Posted by Vijay_R1965 on (February 23, 2014, 21:59 GMT)

Clarke has nothing to worry, he has another 10 innings before he matches Taylor's slump. And guess which shining knight(s) are putting on his(their) shining armor to come galloping to his rescue? Yep, the INDIAN BOWLING GREATS, namely, Messrs Sharma/Khan/Shami/ Jadeja!!!! He'll be facing them over four tests this coming Australian summer... and what a delicious feast that's waiting for the Aussie batsman.. Every out of form batsman will be brought back to their best form ever, one they didn't even know they can reach. They'll all enter "the zone" at the beginning of the first test and not have to exit it till after the last ball is played against India.

I expect one of the Aussie bowlers to score his first triple or quadruple ton. After all, McCullum is not that much better when it comes to batting talent. If he can score a double followed by a triple, why not one or more of Messrs. Johnson/Harris/Siddle/Lyon?

Come on Indian bowlers, we know only you can save all batsman. Go for it!

Posted by ShutTheGate on (February 23, 2014, 21:55 GMT)

Why isn't Graeme Smith's batting form under the microscope? He's on a worse trott than Clarke.

I'm looking forward to the third test especially if the pitch has truer bounce.

I suppose the questions that the selectors might be considering is do we play Watto as an all rounder and if so who out of Doolan or Marsh gets substituted. Also Ryno didn't take a wicket in this match. Did his body break down?

Posted by WeirPicki on (February 23, 2014, 21:51 GMT)

So the world's luckiest batsman (Clarke) is now running out of luck and we are seeing the demise of a very overrated batsman. He is always scared against quality fast bowling too, nothing has changed since he was a schoolboy.

Posted by   on (February 23, 2014, 20:45 GMT)

I know Johnson is a great bowler but is the Aussie supporting pace bowlers as good as say Vilander and Morne-who on their own can run through a batting line up. Honestly do you see Ryan And siddle doing that? So if Johnson has an off day who is going to take the wickets??

Posted by Greatest_Game on (February 23, 2014, 20:35 GMT)

Nice. Honest. The man did not shirk the truth. Good for him.

But, does he still think he has the no.1 bowler and no.1 attack in the world? Well hope to hear his answer after the Newlands test.

Posted by fair_paly_1 on (February 23, 2014, 20:24 GMT)

Didn't Amla score a ton just now after seven consecutive insignificant innings? When Australia were winning Ashes, no one pointed a finger at Clarke, so why now after one loss? Form is temporary but class is permanent. He will come good soon too.

Posted by Neeraj_Sunariya on (February 23, 2014, 20:21 GMT)

MC is excellent in conferences. Very nice and balanced answers. Good thing what Lehmann has done for team - reinstate confidence and setting right expectations.

As MC said ".....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."

That's right way to look at things. They are not No#1 team whose position/crown is at stake and should be worried about.... They should continue challenging the top teams like SA, India and Eng so that we can have some exciting cricket :)

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Daniel BrettigClose
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.
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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
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