02 March 2014

3rd Test, South Africa versus Australia, day 2

Australian 1st innings: 7/494 from 127.4 overs
Michael Clarke 161*, David Warner 135, Steven Smith 84, Shane Watson 40

Yesterday evening Michael Clarke would have wanted to have had a bowl at the Proteas. Instead the rain came down with us just short of 500 runs and play was called off for the day. The result is that while we find ourselves in a fantastic position to win this Test, three days remain and with no great idea as to how the pitch will play from here it may be a tough ask to get 20 South African wickets, bearing in mind we may need to have a second bat, depending on their output. With some high quality bowling we may not need to.

The Proteas still have to bat so I will spare the analysis on how we can roll them. With the covers on, there may be a spongy dynamic to the wicket which, while flat, has had great carry to the keeper and variable bounce. With Dale Steyn out injured, Morne Morkel was able to showcase this area of life in the track. Unfortunately, for the Proteas, he doesn't strike me as an intelligent enough bowler to really unleash his true credentials when the track really suits him, as seen with his hostile performances but poor returns to show for it. For a player who has been at it a while now, it just feels Morkel has never lived up to his ultimate abilities as a tall, fast bowler. I am okay if we keep him at bay for much longer.

Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson will be eager to see how they go after assessing Morkel in particular, while Ryan Harris knows that knee operations isn't far away so he can go all out for this Test, and give us a special performance seeing that there is realistic risk that his playing future could be in doubt post-operations. Wish him all the best for the challenge that should come tomorrow. What a champ, Ryano!

Michael Clarke's innings was his defining one to back the "get ready for a broken f***in' arm" comment he made to James Anderson during the Ashes.

This innings showed us he is also a mentally tough player, who can take the physical blows to the body, the psychological battle to combat fear and pressure, while also believing in ones technique to still find your shots, watch the ball, and play hard to get the runs. Clarkey has 161 of these, topping his 2011 effort by 10 runs. It has been a gritty, true Test innings.

Starting the day in the 90s he was kept under pressure on 99 with some tight bowling from Kyle Abbott, but he found a way to make his way through the 21 deliveries he had to measure up against. From there, it was a fluent innings with lovely stroke play and some intensity stepped up to a level of urgency with the rain lurking about.

He was well supported by Steven Smith who continued to run between the wickets, smack the rubbish to the boundary, and just play another brilliant innings as he shapes himself as an Australian middle order batsman. He has come of age over the last 5 months and has been a joy to watch. He deserved a century but some low bounce found the bottom edge of his bat as he tried to cut Dean Elgar. It was a soft way to end a hard fought innings, a real anti-climax. Playing the number one team in the world, the dubbed best bowling attack in the world, Smithy has returned great batting figures to show the world he is a Test cricketer.

Shane Watson (who took a 5-fer at the ground in 2011) made his return and was under LBW pressure from the word "go", but he managed to get through a shaky start and then let his natural game flow in the number 6 position. He scored 40 runs with three sixes and, like Smith, deserved a milestone of sorts for a very positive innings showing intent and no doubt following team orders to get on with it and find a way to get the boundaries with the rain creeping over Table Mountain.

We lost a number of wickets passing the 400 run mark but we find ourselves 6 runs short of 500 runs, which would have been the ideal landmark to reach. However, I sense an overnight declaration. Time was lost with the rain, we have a strong grip on this match and need time to get into the batsmen. Our bowlers have had two days to stay fresh and relaxed and no doubt the game plans can be well strategised and executed with the game map well presented based on our innings.

Newland's always has an opportunity on offer for a really big team score. That is why I don't want to think too far ahead, but we've certainly done the job having won the toss and posted a big total on the scoreboard. Whether or not Clarke advances it, time will soon tell us but my gut feeling is he will look to bowl as soon as possible. I wonder how the moisture will work the Newland's track?

All in all, it's now about focusing on how to get those wickets while I personally find it exciting to see how/if this track will change character. I really don't have much more to add other than lets see how day 3 of the final Test between these two fine teams plays out.

Verdict: Having not had a bowl at the Proteas it was a lost opportunity to further drive a stake into their match claim, but with nearly 500 runs on the board and our team leader unbeaten on a monumental performance of 161 runs and the bowlers fresh and ready to go, it was our day. Up the Baggy Greens!

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