Clarke caught Smith hook, line and sinker

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Australias captain Michael Clarke emerged victorious in his personal duel with Proteas captain Graeme Smith after the first Test in Brisbane. Photo by Matt Roberts

Brisbane – Graeme Smith is currently holidaying somewhere on the Sunshine Coast, perhaps waiting for a fish to bite. For the next four days he will have time to ponder on the nip that Michael Clarke administered to him at the Gabba.

In an interview shortly before the Proteas left South Africa, Smith said the team were approaching their task with a sense of modesty, determination and quiet confidence. “It’s a big hurdle for us. We’ve got a lot of respect for the Australians, and what they can produce – victory is going to require us to be at our best. We’re very humble in knowing what we need to do. In my experience, once you know that, it’s half the battle.”

After Australia’s “winning draw” on Tuesday, the South Africans know just what lies ahead of them. Parallels are being drawn here between the Gabba Test in the Ashes in 2010 when England recovered from a massive disadvantage halfway through the Test to finish with the most kudos in the drawn match, a perfect launchpad, as it turned out, for their 3-1 series triumph.

The Australian media is currently full of adulation for Clarke after the drawn first Test, not just for his scintillating unbeaten double century and the way the captaincy has nourished his capabilities as a batsman, but also for his bold leadership in which the desire to win from even the least promising situation has been illustrated once again.

After all, who would have thought, after South Africa had compiled a handsome 450, and Australia had been reduced to 40/3, that the Proteas would end the match wriggling on Australia’s hook?

It was only four months ago that Smith was lauded for captaining South Africa in a world record 94th Test match against England at Lord’s, a record that beat the figure of 93 accumulated by the great Allan Border of Australia. Not only that, but his team chose that match to clinch the series 2-0 and shift to the top spot in the world Test rankings.

If a week can be a long time in cricket, three months can be an age. Clarke is certainly garnering all the laurels now. His unbeaten 259, aside from being the highest individual score at the Gabba, was his third double century since assuming the captaincy a year ago, placing the Australian captain at the top of this year’s Test run-scorers, well ahead of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis.

Then there’s his propensity for positive captaincy, not simply getting his team out of a hole, but bundling the opposition into one. It has to be said that there were times on that sorry Monday, particularly during the last session of play, when South Africa looked as if they had no idea how to stop the two Mikes’ (Clarke and Hussey) run-spree.

In the end, it took stubbornness from Kallis, Amla and AB de Villiers to see South Africa through to the safety of a draw, so emphatically had the match’s momentum shifted in two and a half sessions of play.

Smith’s positioning in the cricketing twilight zone wasn’t helped by the fact that he had a poor match with the bat, scoring 10 and 23, with his second knock ending after one of the match’s most compelling mini-dramas when he was briefly locked in a heated contest with paceman James Pattinson.

Speaking after the match, Clarke said that his team wasn’t specifically targeting the South African captain (a statement that can be taken with a pinch of salt), but that it was “nice” that he hadn’t scored any runs.

“He’s a huge player for them, and he’s been a great player for them for a long period of time. We have plans for him and we’ll try to execute those plans as well as we can for the second Test.

“When South Africa has success, he generally plays a big part, so, yeah, the least amount of runs we can give Graeme throughout the series, the better our chance of success, that’s for sure.”

To be fair to Smith, he’s been here before, and no one doubts his ability, and that of his team, to bounce back at Adelaide.

But the Gabba Test has served warning that the Proteas’ battle to hold on to their No 1 placing will be intense and hardfought. – The Mercury


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