David Warner’s lean trot has continued as NSW’s all-star side failed to fire with the bat against Tasmania in their one-day clash at North Sydney Oval on Wednesday.
While nobody is doubting the poor display of Australia’s batting in the first two Test matches, it’s worth pinpointing the strategies used by the South African bowlers that have clearly halted the Australian top order.
The two main assets have been the seam movement in Hobart and the reverse swing in Perth, but more importantly, they have put enormous thought into how to nullify key players Dave Warner and Steve Smith.
The last session on the first day was the only time Warner has broken free in the series. It was a session that Steyn decided to test his ego and pace rather than focusing on line and length. It cost him dearly as Warner broke free and raced to 73 at stumps.
The following morning we saw the South African line change, it was to angle the ball across Warner from the line on middle and leg stump.
So why was this successful?
Apart from the obvious one that it gives Warner less room to move, it also means he has to use his wrists or deflect the ball through the leg side more often.
As good as Warner is, his wrists are like concrete in comparison to Smith. So where Smith can use that bottom hand to flick the ball, Warner needs to slightly open up (left shoulder comes around the body) and then bring the bat slightly across the line.
At the point of contact, he’s not as side on as usual.
This also exposes the edge if the ball seams across him as his bat comes across the line. A lot of the balls South Africa bowled on that line were also around stump or waist high to Warner, and in the past, he has been able to play the horizontal lapse shot to those deliveries.
But what has halted him is perhaps the fact that he has got a leading edge on that shot a couple of times in the Ashes and once during last summer. For that reason, he has shelved that shot for this summer at least.
It will be interesting to see if he pulls it out in Adelaide.
Additionally, with Warner standing on leg-stump, largely because he wants to hit the ball through the offside, the tight line around leg-stump hampers him from going across and working the ball through mid-wicket.
Last year at home, he batted on off stump and the Kiwis kept bowling outside off, this time around the South Africans have done a lot of homework and, apart from the occasionally wide half-volley outside off-stump, they have made him work the ball from middle and off.
Two years ago when Smith was pounding the Indian bowling all over the place, he had hit 76 boundaries in four Test matches. But out of those 76, only 7 were played through the covers on the front foot.
It is not to say Smith cannot play the cover drive, but his strong bottom hand along with him being a dominant right side player makes it difficult for him to put his weight over the front knee and drive the ball through the covers.
Rarely do you see him take a big stride with the front foot, but he counteracts that by shuffling across his stumps, so the full balls on even the fourth stump can be played through the on side.
In his stance, the majority of Smith’s weight tends to be on his back foot, and one of his greatest strengths is that this facet of his game enables him to hang back and play the ball late, bringing the strong bottom hand into play.
Firstly, the South Africans have deprived him of anything back of a length and inside that fourth stump line. It has meant Smith hasn’t been able to rotate the strike as efficiently, allowing the South African seamers to constantly work at him.
The second innings at Hobart was a perfect example as this stopped him from scoring for nearly 8-10 overs.
As mentioned earlier, there is an element of risk when Smith tries to drive on the front foot through the covers, and generally, it’s a shot that he prefers not to play unless it’s virtually a very full ball.
Instead, he prefers to whip the ball on the leg-side even if the ball is on the off side.
For South Africa to contain him on that line, they have bowled the full-length ball at sixth or even seventh stump outside off. Rabada dismissed Smith on that line.
The length made Smith come forward and, despite the margin of error, South Africa had executed their plan perfectly.
One other key feature that seems to have played on Smith’s mind is his slightly controversial dismissal against the spinner, Keshav Maharaj, in the first innings at Perth.
Since that moment, Smith only used his feet to get down the pitch twice from the 42 balls Maharaj had bowled to him. Furthermore, Smith also preferred to stay in his crease to JP Duminy from the 13 balls he faced from the part-time spinner in the second innings at Perth.
This once again has meant Smith has not been able to rotate the strike as freely.
Depending on which spinner South Africa play in Adelaide, it will be interesting to watch if Smith plays in the manner we have become accustomed to by dancing down the pitch to hit the spinners along the ground or over the top.
As the Adelaide Test approaches, it will be equally as interesting to keep an eye out on the strike rotation for Smith. For Warner, it might be changing of his guard or perhaps working on the swivel pull or the leg stump flick.
All this depends on how well the South African bowlers execute their plans, if they’re up for it then Warner and Smith better have a solution.