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Ken Borland

Clarke salutes top-class Mitch, but warns SA will be tougher in PE

Posted on February 18, 2014 by Ken

Australia captain Michael Clarke saluted his wrecking-ball fast bowler Mitchell Johnson for his top-class effort in destroying South Africa in the first Test at Centurion over the weekend, but added that he expected the hosts to be a much tougher proposition in the second Test starting in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.

“Everyone who loves cricket around the world knows that Mitchell Johnson is bowling at 150km/h and executing his skills better than anyone else in the game at the moment. It’s an amazing skill to bowl fast, but to also hit the mark like he did is top-class,” Clarke said after the 281-run walloping at SuperSport Park.

“But there’s still a lot of skill left in that South African changeroom and I’m sure they’ll be a tougher proposition when they come out in Port Elizabeth and we’ll have to be at our best again. Against the number one side in the world, away from home, the only way to beat them is to be at your best all day, every day. They are a world-class team, there’s no doubt about it.”

South Africa captain Graeme Smith denied that there would be any mental scarring after the Johnson working-over, but it is certainly going to take a mental shift for the home side to rebound and stay in the series.

“We’ve only lost a cricket match, even though we were beaten comprehensively. There’s still a lot of confidence in our side and we still have reference points, not long ago we put Mitchell Johnson under pressure.

“We need to find a way to curb him. Our game plan and mindsets are good, but the surface really suited him with indifferent bounce. He obviously bowled well, but the pitch played a big role. The key is to make sure our top-order builds big partnerships against him,” Smith said.

Clarke himself admitted that the pitch, on which the bounce became more and more inconsistent, had played a large role in South Africa’s fourth-day capitulation.

“It was quite a nasty wicket to be honest, you’d not like to see any team batting second on that. That’s why I declared after 3.2 overs, which certainly wasn’t the plan. But I saw enough to know the pitch was quite dangerous and we got off as quickly as we could. The conditions had a lot to do with what happened today,” Clarke said after South Africa were bundled out for 200 in 59.4 overs.

Apart from Johnson, who boasted match figures of 12 for 127, the best by a fast bowler against South Africa since readmission, the other noticeable difference between the two sides at Centurion was the amount of intensity Australia showed in everything they did. It comes from the pain they have suffered recently before turning their fortunes around in the Ashes at home.

“I’ve addressed the group several times about attitude and hunger and the response has been outstanding. We keep finding ways to get back into games and we’ve been able to run with momentum when we have it.

“Our batsmen deserve a lot of credit for making runs on quite a tough pitch and Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan really showed that hunger against the best attack I’ve played against.

“You have to go through tough times to really cherish these moments and we take nothing for granted. We want to get back to number one and we’re showing a large amount of hunger to do it,” Clarke said.

South Africa, number one for so long, have received a huge wake-up call and hopefully their pride has been sufficiently stung for them to produce the massive improvement required in Port Elizabeth to keep the series alive.

“Again we’ve started a series very slowly, but this result will benefit us long-term,” Smith said. “We need to make good leadership decisions and not get caught in the emotion. We deserve every bit of criticism coming our way, but we need to be smart and respond well.”


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