Australia in South Africa 2013-14

Can runs replace talk for captains?

Neither Graeme Smith or Michael Clarke have been flush with runs in the Test series, but have had a fair bit to say about each other's teams

Firdose Moonda

February 25, 2014

Comments: 53 | Text size: A | A

Graeme Smith walks off after he was out lbw, South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 1st day, February 20, 2014
Graeme Smith has struggled against Mitchell Johnson in this series, but his team still levelled the contest © AFP
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Unlike the two teams they lead, Graeme Smith and Michael Clarke have been doing their talking the way us normal folks do: with their mouths. Both leaders are short on form - with 37 runs for Smith and 60 for Clarke across four innings each - so they have to assert their authority by taking gentle at jabs at each other while leaving the rest of their XI to do the real roughing up.

"There's always a game being played within a game," Smith admitted after the second Test in Port Elizabeth. On that occasion it was a game Smith had won, despite Clarke hinting the South African captain was too conservative in his tactics.

When Clarke was asked when he thought the Australians would find themselves chasing, given the gloomy forecast for the fifth day and South Africa needing a victory to keep the series alive, the glint in his eye twinkled with mischief. "I'd have had five overs tonight," he said, to a room that swelled with laughter. Really? Of course not.

Then again, maybe he was not simply taking a dig. Clarke proved his penchant for not batting on regardless when he declared after 3.2 overs on the fourth morning at Centurion Park, with only two runs added to the Australian total. With a lead of 481 and having seen "enough in the pitch," to know the variable bounce would give South Africa no chance, Clarke sent Smith's team in and victory was promptly wrapped up in the final session.

Smith prefers to err on the side of caution. South Africa's overnight lead in Port Elizabeth after three days was 369. Most thought it was already enough, especially with the time left in the match because of the looming rain and the brittle Australian top order. Smith did not. He kept Hashim Amla at the crease for 90 minutes the following morning, until the advantage swelled to 447. Morne Morkel had predicted the evening before that 450 was the "magical number."

That gave South Africa just over five sessions to bowl Australia out but, with play looking likely to be washed out on the final day, it meant a likely two and a bit sessions. South Africa used every last minute of those, including the extra half hour awarded by the umpires, but managed to finish the match in time. In the end, they need not have worried. The rain only arrived at lunch time in Port Elizabeth on the scheduled final day so South Africa had the time they needed and Smith did not need five overs late on the third evening to win.

As it turned out, Smith said he always knew that. "The disappointing thing is that a lot of you fell for it," he joked, to the media. "The truth is that as a captain, you know what you want to do and how to get the best out of your guys."

That much is true for both. Clarke knows how to use Mitchell Johnson in short bursts and how to set fields the photographers can have fun snapping. The four short-midwickets he had for AB de Villiers was one example, and he only reduced them to three when de Villiers made a mockery of it and hit Peter Siddle for six over all of them. Smith has become astute in managing his bowlers, especially Dale Steyn, and coped well without the fourth seamer in Port Elizabeth. He also experimented with fielders, using close catchers at short cover more than in recent times.

"Graeme has learnt a lot from when he first started and you can see he is more adventurous with field placings," Peter Kirsten, the former South Africa batsman, told ESPNcricinfo. "On a slow wicket we saw him use two short covers, two short mid-wickets and that kind of thing."

One of those short covers was in place when Clarke drove loosely in the first innings in Port Elizabeth. That shot got him into trouble in the second innings, too, and extended his run of innings without passing 25 to 11. Smith is in an equally barren stretch, with four scores under 15 and seven innings since his last half-century. Clarke has set Johnson on him with success in three of the four innings in this series so far.

Smith may regard the left-armers hold over him as nothing more than "bull dot dot dot", which is also what he called a lot of Australia's big-talk before the series. Some of that included Peter Siddle saying Australia would target South Africa from the top-down, by going after the leader first. Australia have remained true to that promise and, perhaps subconsciously, have influenced South Africa to do the same thing to Clarke.

Overall, Kirsten said it seems the captains have the measure of each other in just about every way. "They're both strong personalities and have good strength of character. When you do as well as they've both done as leaders, it gives you a lot of confidence," Kirsten said. "It's all a bit of cat and mouse now but it's good to have some Jose Mourinho-style talk around cricket."

Which one of Smith or Clarke is really the special one may be decided after the Newlands Test.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (February 27, 2014, 14:48 GMT)

@PrasPunter commented "Perhaps those experts who point to Aus would do better to look at their teams before lecturing others about morale values and stuff !!"

Morale describes the spirit of the team. Their confidence, How they feel. Their general state of mind. Used in a sentence one would write "The morale of the Australian team is at an all time low after their thrashing at St Georges Park."

Moral values are ethical values, such as honesty, integrity, fair play, etc. I cannot think of a positive way to use them in a sentence that has the Australian team as it's subject. These are not values commonly associated with the students of Steve Waugh.

Suffice it to say, you meant moral, not morale. Fear not that anyone would lecture Aus about moral values. What on earth would be the point?

Moral values do not have "stuff." There are no lectures about "moral(e) values and stuff." Unless, of course, one is trying to stuff amoral values down the throat of the cricket world, Mr. Waugh?

Posted by Greatest_Game on (February 27, 2014, 7:16 GMT)

@ Hello13 informs us that "The way the Australians are behaving is disgraceful, but sadly typical of them. Clearly, everyone is sick of them, and they should probably keep quiet."

I hope you don't mean the Australian team. They aren't behaving badly, except Warner. He behaves badly everywhere.

At Yalta, Roosevelt, Stalin & Churchill are thrashing out the endgame of WWII. Stalin whispers to Churchill - known for his arrogance & well crafted insults - "Why in hell's name did the Aussies send Warner here. He's intolerably rude. What the hell does a 'flat track' have to do with a war? Did the trenches turn his brain to mud? If he says 'reverse swing' once more I'll invade Australia & imprison his entire family. And his friend. I'll name the camp Boganville. (Hence the ornamental vine Bougainvillea.)

For an Aussie, Clarke is pretty polite. His team too, except Warner. Don't blame Clarke for the few, but incredibly rude, Aus fans here.

A Saffa, defending Clarke. Sad, aint it!

Posted by PrasPunter on (February 27, 2014, 6:05 GMT)

@toolarny , it doesn't really matter as long as the team wins !!

Posted by PrasPunter on (February 27, 2014, 6:03 GMT)

@CustomKid, I wouldn't have said it any better than you. How about this - SA appealed twice on catches that were found to be bumped-ones in game 2. Just imagine if Aus has done this !! Every expert worth his/her space would have jumped the gun and cried foul !! Perhaps those experts who point to Aus would do better to look at their teams before lecturing others about morale values and stuff !!

Posted by CustomKid on (February 27, 2014, 0:47 GMT)

I don't quite understand the mentality of cricket followers saying they prefer smith over clarke because of the way he conducts himself? Australian's play hard, sometimes dirty cricket that may mean win at all costs if needs be.

These guys are playing for millions of dollars, contracts that set them up for life, you only get one chance at this game and they want to make every post a winner. This is some park match being played in paddock in 1880, 'Jolly good shot there old chap', this is a a competitive lucrative game.

Things evolve, games change, every team and I mean every team, sledges, over appeals, argues with umpires, argues with another player at some stage, to suggest otherwise people are delusional.

The Australian's do it best and that is why, even when they're not packed with star players they're still competitive. After the infamous Sydney test v's India the AUS team went soft, I'm glad they're now getting back and playing some hard cricket and ruffling a few feathers

Posted by philvic on (February 26, 2014, 23:04 GMT)

Clarke has not done well as skipper. He has lost a home series against SA,been drubbed in India with absolute capitulation and managed to comfortably lose a series in England against an ordinary English team. The results have picked up of late but for much of his tenure as captain his team has been in disarray and he has a long way to go before getting close to Smith's stature.

Posted by Rajsrimaan on (February 26, 2014, 19:34 GMT)

Both captains are in the middle of a poor runes scores. Of the two, Smith looks the more beaten and less likely to score in the remaining Test, but cricket is a funny game ..... Tests tend to finish early these days,because alternate forms of cricket allied with vastly improved batting and defensive gear have placed technique at a discount, which impacts the ability of batsmen to play a match-defining knock. The best of those is ABD whose main challengers (KP and JK) are no longer around to delight fans. Both captains lead great teams, and their personal failures (and tactical shortcoming) impact match and series results correspondingly less than would otherwise be the case. I expect both teams to go for each other's jugulars in the final Test. SA probably require a more important knock from their captain in case ABD fails to make a century. SA should aim to bat strong and long to weary the Aussie attack that has had a long and tiring year or so of cricket.

Posted by Rajsrimaan on (February 26, 2014, 19:30 GMT)

Both captains are in the middle of a poor runes scores. Of the two, Smith looks the more beaten and less likely to score in the remaining Test, but cricket is a funny game ..... Tests tend to finish early these days,because alternate forms of cricket allied with vastly improved batting and defensive gear have placed technique at a discount, which impacts the ability of batsmen to play a match-defining knock. The best of those is ABD whose main challengers (KP and JK) are no longer around to delight fans. Both captains lead great teams, and their personal failures (and tactical shortcoming) impact match and series results correspondingly less than would otherwise be the case. I expect both teams to go for each other's jugulars in the final Test. SA probably require a more important

Posted by   on (February 26, 2014, 18:56 GMT)

Mee, I think you are backing the right horse. You have stated career stats. However the inexperience alluded to is not as a player, but as a national skipper. Clark has only captained 36 times (Smith 108) and has a win:loss ratio of 1.63 (Smith 1.96). On the balance of it, he has always been a more natural batsman, but never opened up the innings as Smith does. The wiser Smith gets the more he'll become indispensable as an experienced general, I feel. Clark has the potential but ultimately history will debate, with the benefit of reflection, who was the better skip of the two.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (February 26, 2014, 18:24 GMT)

Clarke and Smith have similar captaincy records, so Clarke is not that much more inexperienced as some are making out. As at 1/1/14: Smith 114 tests 59, 28, 27 Clarke 101 tests 56, 26, 19 Both excellent captains with contrasting styles. I'd pick Smith as having the edge given the way he conducts himself on and off the field.

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