Australia have always believed that the best way to kill a snake is by chopping of its head, thereby meaning a calculated assault on the opposition’s captain will result in his team folding.
Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were past masters at executing this tactic and the baton has been passed on successfully to Mitchell Johnson in the current Australian team. And Johnson has been full value in this rip-roaring Test series with South Africa, currently squared at 1-1 going into the Newlands decider this Saturday, dismissing Proteas skipper Graeme Smith in three of the four innings.
But while the Australians are focusing all their energies on Smith, their own leader Michael Clarke is in the midst of a form slump. Clarke has not only failed in four consecutive Test innings in South Africa, but his poor run stretches further back, with the Australian captain not managing more than 25, dating back to last three Ashes Tests.
In fact, Clarke only has a sum total of 160 runs in his last 11 innings overall.
Many believe the 33-year-old to be “the best batsman in the world”, but Clarke’s recent statistics do not suggest that, especially with the world’s official No 1 ranked Test batsman AB de Villiers registering a record 12th consecutive score of 50 or more in the St George’s Park second Test.
Clarke has not yet plunged to the depths of former Australian captain Mark Taylor who went 21 innings with a top score of 43 during 1996 and 1997, but after the 231-run thrashing in Port Elizabeth to the Proteas, the travelling Aussie media are starting to lose patience with the man they hailed not so long ago for returning the Ashes.
It was interesting to note the way Clarke responded to the questions about his lack of runs. Initially he teased that Shane Watson’s imminent return to the Australian could see him dropped, before becoming increasingly agitated as the scrutiny persisted from some of the senior members of the press contingent.
“Has it started?” Clarke asked earnestly, before continuing “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. 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. I haven’t made as many runs as I would have liked but I feel like I’m working as hard as I (ever) have been.
“I’m hitting the ball sweet. I think my shot selection was extremely poor with my dismissal. I’ve got to be better than that.”
Clarke keeps reminding everyone that he “is due” and Cape Town has been a personal happy hunting for ground for him, especially taking into account the marvellous 151 he scored when these two teams last met in the shadow of Table Mountain. But he is not likely to receive any let-up from Dale Steyn.
South Africa’s talisman was in awe-inspiring form on the fourth afternoon in PE with his dismissal of Clarke being the catalyst to Australia losing nine wickets in one disastrous session. Steyn’s dominance of Pakistan opener Mohammed Hafeez is well-documented, but it is a noticeable fact that Clarke is actually the batsman the “Steyn Remover” has dismissed the most – nine times in 13 Test matches – during his career.
It is a notable achievement, giving value to the theory that Steyn dismisses the big players of the game, and does not inflate his ever-expanding wicket tally with a host of tailenders.
Clarke was gracious in his praise of his arch-nemesis Steyn’s five-over spell that brought 3/11 which ultimately decided the Test match and swung the series momentum in the Proteas’ favour. South Africa will hope that it does not inspire the Australian captain to work hard at his game this week and prove what a quality batsman he really is. - Cape Times