Clarke vs Philander Test showdown
Michael Clarke, the Australian captain and one of the best batsmen in the world, will be a vital cog in the Australian cricket machine during the current Test series against South Africa.
His duel with Vernon Philander, second-ranked Test bowler in the world and a world-class player, might be critical to the outcome of the series.
Recently retired South African player Mark Boucher assesses Michael and Vernon and their showdown in Australia.
1. One of the finest
Michael is one of the best batsmen in the world, who accumulates runs on both sides of the wicket.
He is particularly strong square of the wicket, but can easily caress it straight down the ground for boundaries.
A barometer of greatness is the ability of a batsman to hit good deliveries for boundaries, and Clarke does that regularly and easily.
He is an aggressive player who takes on the bowlers. He gives the bowlers a chance, but also pressurises them.
2. Strongest suits
Clarke is a very good player of spinners. He manipulates the ball through the inner ring with ease with good use of the wrists.
He also uses his feet well to force bowlers to change their lengths – he might stay leg-side of the ball to drive it through the off-side and he is also strong off his legs.
3. Trouble brewing
Like many other world-class batsmen, he might be a bit vulnerable early on, but once he has settled, he can dominate bowling attacks.
Since he has taken over the captaincy from Ricky Ponting, he has grown in stature.
It is difficult for bowling attacks to keep him in check – there have been instances in the past where they have targeted him with short-pitched bowling early and have removed him.
But he will pull and hook those short-pitched deliveries for boundaries once he has found his rhythm.
1. A difficult customer
Vernon is a difficult bowler to handle.
He is very quick to assess the right length on the pitch and to adapt his bowling accordingly.
He bowls a bit fuller than most other bowlers and swings the ball just a tad through the air, but moves it both ways.
He would swing it away through the air, and then nip it back off the seam, or he would swing it in through the air, and nip it away off the seam.
Like Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath, one of Vernon’s secrets is that his probing line and length forces the batsman into constantly having to play defensively.
He is very consistent, and does not offer the batsman many boundary opportunities.
Consequently, he builds a lot of pressure. His accurate bowling and discipline is a scorching examination of the batsman’s technique and temperament, a question they’re often not able to answer convincingly.
3. Still improving
Vernon is streetwise. Batsmen won’t easily waltz down the pitch to dispatch him over the inner ring.
He is wise enough to deliver a bouncer with enough venom and pace to force them onto the back foot.
Thereafter, he will bowl a bit fuller again and force them into a fatal nick, or in playing down the wrong line.
Vernon was the second fastest bowler ever to 50 Test wickets, reaching the milestone in seven Tests.
But he can still improve as he becomes more experienced and gains more knowledge of his own action, which will add to his effectiveness.
Who will win the contest
It is difficult to predict a winner when Michael and Vernon go toe to toe.
The match situation might be pivotal to the outcome of the duel. If Michael walks in at number four and Vernon has completed his opening spell, Vernon might return with Michael on 15 or 20.
Clarke might then have settled, but he will still give Vernon a chance by playing attackingly.
If Clarke walks to the crease with Australia under pressure on 6/2, and Vernon has the new ball, the pendulum might swing in Vernon’s direction.
South African bowlers have attempted to bowl fuller and straight at him early on, as he tends to move around in his crease a bit at the start of his innings.
His head has fallen over a bit on occasion, giving the South African bowlers a chance to trap him in front.
They have also targeted him a bit early on with short-pitched bowling, and have succeeded with this tactic occasionally.
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