Clark takes the quiet route to Twenty20 success
Stuart Clark doesn't stand out as the ideal Twenty20 bowler. He doesn't have a searing yorker or mischievous changes of pace and relies on plugging away to extract his victims, seemingly not the best tactic when a bowler has just four overs up his sleeve. But Clark's 4 for 20 against Sri Lanka has propelled him to the top of the World Twenty20 wicket-taking list and kept Australia in the tournament.
Typically it has been done without any fuss or fanfare, the same way he regularly troubled England during the Ashes after suggestions he was the weak link. However, despite making a fine combination in Tests Clark's bowling was thought too similar to Glenn McGrath for them to both make the World Cup squad. It was only when Brett Lee pulled out that Clark earned a late call, and then played one match in the eight-week tournament.
With McGrath now part of Australia's past rather than present a space has opened up for Clark and he has grabbed the chance to impress. He also has fond memories of bowling in South Africa after his first Test tour in 2005/06 where he took 20 wickets at 15 in three matches, including nine at Cape Town, although Twenty20 has proved a new challenge. "I'm trying to bowl more variation than I have done in the past," he said. "I did a lot of that with Hampshire in England, but there's no great secret to it."
In Tests, Clark is used to nagging away outside off stump, preying on the batsman's patience in the way McGrath made himself the world's best. In the longer form bowlers can create wickets over an extended spell but Twenty20 doesn't allow that luxury. Up to the end of this match, there had been two slip catches during the tournament, so is a bowler purely waiting for a batsman to give his innings away rather than using his skill?
"It does appear to be the way it is happening," Clark said, but he still believes there is scope for the bowler to play his own role. "There's a bit of both, you get guys out by bowling well and building as much pressure as possible and making them do something that will force them to hit the ball in the air."
Of Clark's four wickets against Sri Lanka, two were caught at point from flashing shots (one a stunning effort by Michael Clarke) another taken at third man and one, Tillakaratne Dilshan, trying to sweep through fine leg. Though the end results may not be the traditional way to collect wickets, the Australians have shown that the basic bowling attributes remain the same.
Brett Lee has been hostile with the new ball, which again swung for him, Nathan Bracken has varied his pace and Mitchell Johnson has gone hard into the pitch and generated extra bounce. Throw in Clark's back-of-length accuracy and it has formed a potent attack, especially when bowling first. "The bowlers have been fantastic all the way through," the stand-in captain Adam Gilchrist said. "They probably did a lot more bowling leading into the tournament than we did work as batsmen."
Their performance enabled Australia, for the second time in the tournament, to secure a must-win match following the group-stage victory over England on the same ground. "It would have been more humiliating to go out in the first round. At least we got through to the Super Eight stage," Gilchrist said after being asked whether this match had more pressure than the England game. "We rise in these occasions and are experienced in the big games. The guys rallied really well even though we didn't have our captain [Ricky Ponting] out there."
This was another example of Australia, despite having misgivings over the tournament, still turning on the power when it mattered. Gilchrist, who earlier in the week continued to cast doubt on Australia's commitment to Twenty20, said the team's thinking is changing.
"As a team that has dominated the other two forms for a long while it could be easy for us to come into this feeling as though we are owed something, that it isn't right that teams are being brought closer to us who we believe aren't as skilful.
"Maybe we had that mindset at the start of the tour, you'd have to ask each player individually, but it was identified in my mind and it certainly isn't the case. You are never owed anything in this game. It's [Twenty20] a very real part of cricket and I think we have made that adjustment."
Australia have shown their mettle when it comes to crunch matches and there are now potentially two knock-out games remaining. Regardless of how much they accept the format, you wouldn't bet against them lifting the trophy.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo