Thursday, 22 November 2012

Murder Bloody Murder

That which couldn't get better,
did. Clarke was exquisite
Michael Clarke became the only Test cricketer to score four double centuries or more in a calendar year as he pulverised a depleted South African attack at the Adelaide Oval on the first day of the second Test. Michael Hussey and David Warner also scored definitive centuries as Australia posted the second highest team total in a days play. Eight years ago, 400 was posted against India on the first day in Adelaide but that total was left behind half way through the last session. Their effort today is surpassed only by the 6-494 scored ironically against South Africa at the SCG 101 years ago.

Warner, Clarke and Hussey produced one of the greatest sessions of attacking batting ever seen in Australia. Starting at a solid 3-102 after lunch, they added 108 in an hour at eight an over, during which Warner raised his third Test hundred. It was a joyous innings, full of shots. Four big thumps when for six and sixteen boundaries were mostly through cover. It was only when he toned things back after making his century that the same uncertainty outside off stump returned and he edged to Smith from Morkel.

The idea of relief wasn’t on Mike Hussey’s agenda and he went at a run a ball until tea, Clarke moving inexorably to his hundred as the kettle was boiled for tea. For a man averaging more than a hundred this year, I guess he would expect no less. When the session closed at tea, Australia had added 1-178 in two hours at more than seven an over.

Steyn pulls a heart string
What was hard to fathom through all of this was the status of Dale Steyn. As Imran Tahir was being belted at ten an over and the rest were copping similar, the world’s best bowler was patrolling the outfield. When he did finally bowl, it was an over of bouncers delivered around the wicket to prevent Clarke from making his hundred. It was a pity he didn’t have the same effort earlier.

After tea, nothing much changed. Clarke and Hussey were meticulous in carving up every part of the roast. Clarke driving either side of the wicket and cutting superbly. For Hussey it was the famous cover drive and the slog sweep which kept breaking Tahir’s heart. After an hour in the last session, they had added 86. Morkel returned to make a statement for his captain. Clarke hit five boundaries from the over - an off drive over mid off, one past mid off, a backfoot drive forward of point, a cut behind point and finished it with the best shot in cricket, the on drive. It was the over which was prescriptive of the day.

In his next, he may have had Hussey with the faintest of edges but after Billy Bowden gave it, it was overturned by the DRS. With no sign of an edge on any of the technology apparent from the start, it took an eternity for the decision to be made, to impatient jeers by the crowd and agitation from Clarke.

At 5:00pm local time, the 400 came up and in the next over, Australia had scored more runs in a day in Adelaide than ever before. With duPlessis bowling his part time leggies and Tahir improving as Clarke tired, Australia finally slowed its pace to mortal standards. Both leg spinners came around the wicket and pitched well outside leg stump. It was a negative tactic but what else was Smith to do. Even so, a few overs later, Australia posted their second highest team total in a day on Australian soil.

With the South Africans already wandering in a daze and the new ball due, two successive balls ball from Tahir provided the epitome of Australia’s domination. First Clarke turned a ball behind square leg to raise his double century (226 balls) and become the only batsman in Test cricket to record four scores of two hundred or more in the one calendar year. The cheering hadn’t subsided when Mike Hussey launched the next ball over midwicket to raise his century (122 balls). It was at that point that South Africa took the new ball … Smith holding an empty bridle and scratching his head, hours after the horse had bolted.

Steyn was back, huffing and puffing and broke the Hussey/Clarke partnership with the new ball but at the other end, poor Morkel was flogged by Clarke again. Morkel bowled with his heart and in doing so, it wasn’t his height that made him stand head and shoulders above Steyn. On a day when Morkel never said no to his skipper, Steyn spent a long time on the boundary.
At stumps, an extended last session had yielded another 204 runs, this time at 5.7 an over. 382 had been smashed since lunch for the loss of Warner and Hussey.
Ponting bowled falling over.
Earlier, Australia made an almost identical start to their innings as they had in Brisbane. It was a start which saw Clark at the wicket shortly after drinks as Australia lost its first three wickets in three overs either side of the drinks break.
Warner was his old, best self, driving boldly outside his off stump to the even shorter square boundaries. This is the Warner Australia needs and must be patient with because this sort of firepower can’t be expected in every Test innings. When it happens, it sets the side up and destroys the opposition. He and Ed Cowan had started at four an over before Jacques Kallis came into the attack and took a simple return catch from Ed Cowan - one that came to his bat via his boot and may well have been lbw. Rob Quiney edged Morkel to Smith in the next over for an eight ball duck and Ponting came to the whilst drinks were taken and left after facing three balls. Two were on his pads, one of which he played forward of square to the boundary. The next from Kallis was angled in at middle, moved away late and hit Ponting’s off stump. It was a good ball that poor footwork made look a lot better than it was. Ponting played the wrong line, squared up and fell to his knees facing the bowler when his right leg came skirting around to mid off. It looked dreadful because it was.

Ponting’s failures aren’t the problem but his footwork against an off stump attack is. Having counted him out before, I’m loathe to go there again because he’s a champion and they have a habit of staggering off the canvas and landing killer blows. Let’s say this … England suddenly got further away.

Nothing to laugh about in Adelaide
South Africa, placed suddenly in charge of the game thanks to the Kallis double strike were thrown a further blow when Kallis pulled up lame on the way into the wicket, threw the ball along the ground to his captain and limped off after treatment confirmed he’d damaged a hamstring. Before play, they lost Vernon Philander, a key man in containing the Australians, who woke with back pain and then Smith lost the toss on a wicket he desperately wanted to win.

They have these excuses to turn to but its far worse than that. As well as Australia batted, South Africa bowled badly. If they had plans, they weren't apparent and their captain didn't seem likely to invent new ideas on the spot. Smith lacks adventure and when the game is taken up to him, he throws the ball to the same people and hopes things will work out. The players lost to injury and inconvenience were massive blows but where are the world champions now? More to the point, where is the skipper? He was missing in action today.