Adelaide might be known as the City of Churches but it can be most unwelcoming for fast bowlers who aren’t prepared to bend their back for long periods and stretch their imagination to the limits.
Batsmen with a thirst for runs look forward to visiting Adelaide and not just because there are actually more pubs in the near vicinity of the Oval than places of worship. The pitch is true and the bounce reliable for the first three days and that’s the time for batsmen to slake their thirst. After that things start to get more interesting for bowlers; the bounce becomes variable, the ball occasionally deviates off the wearing sections of the pitch and the spinners extract some turn.
That’s why matches that appear for all money to be headed for a draw suddenly come alive at the tail end of a Test. The second Test of the 2003-04 series against India is a classic example where both teams amassed in excess of five hundred in the first innings. Then on a seemingly benign pitch Ajit Agarkar led a second innings heist and Rahul Dravid piloted India home to an unlikely victory.
The South Africans should be wary of the Adelaide Test. They were extremely lacklustre at the Gabba, especially following the washed out second day. The two areas where they fell down badly were a lack of venom in their bowling and tactical imagination; they sat back and waited for Australia to make mistakes and against good sides that ploy usually backfires.
At the Gabba, the South Africans functioned like a badly tuned Model T Ford.
While Graeme Smith seemed content to settle for a draw following a day lost to rain, as usual Michael Clarke was busy conjuring up ways to try and clinch victory. If Smith and the South African fast bowlers adopt a similar passive approach in the second Test then the chances of an Australian victory will greatly increase.
South Africa’s lack of variety in attack will be corrected by the inclusion of Imran Tahir for Adelaide. However, the absence of venom from their quicks will only be rectified by a concerted effort from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
We hear how South Africa has the number one attack in the world but at the Gabba they appeared to lack a bowler to “shake up the opposition”. Unless they’re prepared to inject a bit more venom into their bowling in Adelaide the Australian batting line-up will continue to excel.
Smith has to play his part by being more pro-active. Adelaide is the sort of pitch where you need to try a few things to get into the batsman’s mind and create doubt, so sitting back waiting for errors of judgement won’t work.
On the evidence of Brisbane, Clarke has a big advantage over Smith in this regard.
Australia’s biggest dilemma is whether to include the injury prone Shane Watson for a Test where more bowling options will be invaluable. Cricket Australia is correct to have reservations about Watson’s ability to get through a Test physically — either as an all-rounder or as a specialist batsman — but it’s ridiculous when they call into question his right to a lofty ranking on the list of Australia’s best willow wielders.
Watson is a high-class player of fast bowling and while his penchant for quick fire sixties may not win games they can set the team on the early road to victory.
It’s simple arithmetic; the longer bowlers have to take 20 wickets the greater the chances of victory.
The Australian bowlers at the Gabba, particularly James Pattinson and Peter Siddle, displayed more passion than their South African counterparts. Pattinson and Siddle are both capable of explosive spells where they test the technique and temperament of the opposition batsmen and there’s a call for this style of bowling at Adelaide Oval. It helps that Clarke, with his intuitive, proactive captaincy, is quick to sense the right time for such an onslaught.
Incredibly, after a pedestrian first day’s bowling and a top order collapse, Australia took the psychological honours from a drawn first Test.
Clarke’s captaincy as much as his fluent stroke play was responsible for that tremendous turnaround and a repeat performance in Adelaide will see Australia take the lead in the series.
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