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All to play for at Newlands

Captains Smith, Clarke struggle for form as teams head to Cape Town for decider.

Cape Town | Published:March 1, 2014 1:51 am
The wicket has been a key factor in the opening two Tests The wicket has been a key factor in the opening two Tests

South Africa captain Graeme Smith expects an even contest between bat and ball to set up a thrilling finale in the series-deciding third Test against Australia at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.

The wicket has been a key factor in the opening two Tests, a lively pitch helping Mitchell Johnson bowl Australia to a 281-run win in the series opener in Pretoria and a slower and more abrasive surface in Port Elizabeth aiding South Africa to get prodigious reverse-swing and claim a 231-run win.

“It looks like a really good Test wicket and will have something for both bat and ball,” Smith told reporters on Friday.

“It can get a bit flat and slow towards the back end if it is hot, but it has also changed of late and there has been a bit more in it than in the past.”

The Proteas captain said he expected a different type of wicket to the one that saw Australia bowled out for 47 in their second innings in 2011.

“I think the wicket has settled down quite a bit since then. That Test was also played in November just after winter.”

Smith denied that the South African team had asked Newlands curator Evan Flint for any specific type of wicket or that they had done so ahead of the second Test.

“Port Elizabeth has been exactly the same for the last 40 years, I’m amazed that so much was made of the wicket after the Test. We knew exactly what to expect down there and we were the team that adapted best to the conditions.”

Looking for runs

Smith has scored 37 runs in four innings in the series, but felt in good form and was looking forward to playing on a ground where he averages 52 overall.

“I feel like I have been batting well the whole season, it is just these last two games. In Pretoria I felt I was unlucky there and I let myself down in Port Elizabeth. My training has gone well, mentally I feel in a good space. I have ticked all the boxes, it’s now about going out there tomorrow and getting in.”

Having former coach and fellow left-handed opener Gary Kirsten back with the squad this week in a consultancy role has been a boost, Smith said.

“It’s always nice to have Gary back, he always adds value with his calmness, experience and work rate. He is a great asset.”

Australia turn to Warne

Shane Warne’s vast Test experience has been well utilised by the Australian squad in the lead-up to the series-deciding third Test against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.

Captain Michael Clarke says the veteran of 145 Test matches and arguably the greatest leg-spinner of all time has played a leading role in mentoring the team in his role as a consultant.

Clarke believes Warne’s cricketing brain and infectious personality will help lift the squad after the demoralising loss in the second Test.

“It’s been fantastic having him around and great for me personally,” Clarke told reporters on Friday. “I have a wonderful relationship with Warney and it’s always nice to have him around, especially for those players that have not spent a lot of time with him, they have had their eyes opened.

“The spinners really enjoyed the work he did with them yesterday (Thursday). He will do whatever it takes to get the players to bring the best out of themselves. I have said for a long time he is probably the best captain I have played under and his knowledge is like no other, He played 145 Test matches and knows the game.”

Clarke admits he is at a loss to explain why his bowlers failed to get the same reverse-swing as South Africa in the second Test and expects it to be a factor again in Cape Town.

After claiming a win in the first Test, Australia were on track for success in the second before paceman Dale Steyn took advantage of the conditions to fire his side to victory.

Dry wicket

“Our bowlers have been very good at getting the ball to reverse, that did not happen last time. The wicket looks quite dry so that means there should be reverse-swing again.”

Although his position in the side is not under threat, Clarke said the fact he has not scored more than 25 in his last 11 Test innings is weighing heavily on him.

“Any time I am not leading from the front it is disappointing for me. My first job in the team is to score runs. It’s the Australian way, you are first picked on form and then made captain later.”

Important to win

Clarke had earlier in the week suggested the third Test would be one of the most important of his career, not least given the fact that Australia’s recent form away from home has been poor.

They have not won an overseas Test series since beating the West Indies in April 2012.

“It’s a really important Test match, a special one for us. We achieved what we wanted in Australia through the summer, but we have not had success away for a long time. “But having said that, we did not come here to lose. To win the series would be a great way to finish the summer and we will leave nothing in the tank.”

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