The Mo-mance is over
We should have known that was coming.
Instead, we were blinded by the euphoria of the passionate summer affair with Big Mitch. Six dates, six blinders.
But life’s not really like that. Reality will eventually bite. Especially when you’re playing the No. 1 side in the world and you have manifest weaknesses in your ranks.
Johnson was blunted in Port Elizabeth by a pudding of a pitch – the slowest the Australians have played on since the Swann-fest in England last winter – and some determined South African batting.
After the debacle in India last year, there is a common denominator: Australia is extremely vulnerable if you take the pace and bounce out of the track. Expect further communication between groundsmen and the South African camp, even if they are not as disarmingly frank about it as dear old Adrian Carter at Port Elizabeth.
Johnson was by no means bad – in fact he was the most economical of the quicks – but he reminded us that he was mortal.
Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle did not step up to fill the vacuum, and certainly could not match the hostility of Morkel in the first innings or the skill of Steyn in the second. Steyn’s in-swinging heat-seekers in the second innings were nigh unplayable.
The other standout player of the Ashes campaign, Brad Haddin, failed with the bat in both innings.
It was universally acknowledged coming into this series that Australia had to wean itself off its Haddin dependence, but just because a problem is obvious does not make it easy to solve.
The disturbing lack of depth in Australia’s batting ranks was not suddenly remedied by Shaun Marsh’s triumphant return to Test cricket.
If you will forgive the numbers, it is sobering to look at Marsh’s first incarnation as a Test cricketer: 141, 81, 18, 44, 0, 0, 3, 0, 11, 3, 0.
And the second incarnation, so far: 148, 44, 0, 0.
Assuming he gets another chance in Cape Town, he will need to arrest that slide. In a hurry.
Alex Doolan, likewise, came back to earth with a thud in Port Elizabeth.
Then, of course, there is the elephant in the batting order…
Cometh the Cape. Cometh the man
“Right now you’re right, it is 11 innings since I’ve scored more than 25. I’m due.”
No one could accuse Michael Clarke of dodging the issue.
Of all the dismissals at Port Elizabeth, his was the singularly most culpable. Unlike some of his teammates, he was not upended by an unplayable delivery, but by poor shot selection and half-hearted execution.
Still, given the way he has risen to most other challenges in his career, most recently his response to Stuart Broad at the Gabba, we are backing Clarke to make a statement in Cape Town. If not, it will be difficult for Australia to win the series.
Over to you, Billy
Bowling coaches have been all the vogue in cricket’s laptop age.
They tend to have a higher profile when their charges are on top. Certainly David Saker was never off the television screen when England’s bowlers were dominating in the winter, but less visible when things turned sour in the summer.
Craig ‘Billy’ McDermott has a superb record with Australia’s fast bowlers, and has been duly showered with praise.
After Port Elizabeth, however, Clarke was pointed in his observations about Australia’s skill deficit with the ball.
“I think you have seen a class spell of reverse swing bowling from all three of the South African bowlers, certainly Dale Steyn,” he said.
“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.”
That’s a pretty steep learning curve for Billy and his boys. Five days, in fact.
All is not lost
Australia’s win at Centurion was extraordinary, but it raised expectations to an unreasonable level. South Africa is a highly skilled, resilient team and deserving of its No. 1 ranking.
But it should be remembered that a series win by Australia would put it ahead of the curve, a bit like Hawthorn’s ‘bonus’ premiership in 2008.
Watto update (#273)
With Doolan and Marsh struggling in Port Elizabeth, and the bowlers’ failure to extract reverse swing, he’s back in contention.
And, as much as we swore never to say this again (gulp, and God have mercy on us): there … is … a … case … for … Watto …