Was Clarke ahead of himself by thinking his pace trio best in world?

2014-01-07 00:00

CAPE TOWN — If South Africa’s vastly respected and proven pace attack needed any extra motivation for the looming home Test series against Australia, the Baggy Greens’ captain Michael Clarke provided it on Sunday.

Cock-a-hoop Clarke, speaking immediately after completion of a 5-0 Ashes humiliation of England in Sydney, revealed that even before the Test began he had told his pace trio of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle that they were the best in the world.

“In England as well [in the first leg of the back-to-back Ashes series, and despite the Aussies’ defeat then] ... they’ve earned that mantle.”

Johnson, especially, was sensational in the 5-0 revenge outcome, the left-arm thunderbolt bagging 37 wickets at an average of only 13,97, while Harris earned 22 at 19,31 and the ever-workmanlike Siddle 16 at 24,12 and best economy rate of the three at under two and a half runs to the over.

But was Clarke getting just a little ahead of himself in his praise?

Many South Africans will suspect so, considering that the Aussies remain third on the Test rankings, even after the thrashing of dishevelled England, and the Proteas are very comfortably top of the global pile.

Just as important to chew on is that Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn — in that order right now — are the best-placed men on the ICC Test bowler rankings, with Harris the nearest Australian challenger in third. Siddle lies sixth and Johnson eighth, and even if the third South African pace factor, Morné Morkel, is not currently in the top 10 he remains very close to it in 12th.

The lanky Morkel may not have troubled the wickets column as much as he would have liked in the recent mini-series triumph over India, but he was a marvellous pressure builder and only travelled at 1,89 runs to the over during the course of the two Tests.

As for Steyn, he confirmed in the decisive second Test at Kingsmead, via his match analysis of 9/147, how keen he is to recapture his long-time status as No. 1-ranked bowler from his compatriot Philander: a healthy little in-house duel if ever there was one.

It may also have temporarily slipped Clarke’s mind that when Philander made his Test debut in November 2011, it was against his very troops at Newlands in an eight-wicket South African victory — the Proteas seamer claimed eight scalps including 5/15 in Australia’s pitiful second innings of 47 all out.

Nevertheless, his supreme rating of his own speedsters serves as a marketing dream ahead of the three-Test series in February and March — with Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Newlands the respective venues — and should only have riled South Africa’s massively effective pace arsenal.

Here are the current Test statistics of the likely six main pace factors (three per team) in the SA v Australia series

South Africa

Dale Steyn (age 30): 350 wickets at 22,90 in 69 Tests (57 at 27,28 in 11 Tests against Australia)

Vernon Philander (age 28): 105 wickets at 18,00 in 20 Tests (18 at 21,88 in 4 Tests against Australia)

Morné Morkel (age 29): 183 wickets at 29,91 in 53 Tests (37 at 34,54 in 10 Tests against Australia)

Total Test wickets between the three: 638

Australia

Mitchell Johnson (age 32): 242 wickets at 28,33 in 56 Tests (42 at 29,97 in 9 Tests against South Africa)

Ryan Harris (age 34): 93 wickets at 21,56 in 21 Tests (4 at 25,00 in 1 Test against South Africa)

Peter Siddle (age 29): 183 wickets at 28,68 in 51 Tests (38 at 30,86 in 10 Tests against South Africa)

Total Test wickets between the three: 518

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