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Clarke diplomatic over Port Eliz pitch

By AAP .
19 February 2014 08:37PM EST

MICHAEL Clarke was diplomatic as the divisive issue of pitch doctoring reared its head, with revelations the curator for the second Test in South Africa is at the beck and call of the Proteas.

Shane Watson is expected to remain sidelined as Australia take an unchanged XI into the match at Port Elizabeth, which will be played in contrived conditions starting on Thursday.

It's understood Proteas coach Russell Domingo was disappointed with the bouncy Centurion surface for the first Test, which Mitchell Johnson took advantage of to claim career-best match figures of 12-127 and guide Australia to a 281-run victory.

Another defeat for Domingo and South Africa captain Graeme Smith would trigger the ignominy of the nation's first Test series loss since 2009.

The pair have enlisted the help of St George's Park curator Adrian Carter to enhance their hopes of avoiding that result.

"I had a chat to the groundsman. At the moment the grass is 8mm high," Michael Clarke said of the strip.

"He said he's going to speak to their captain and coach before he makes a decision (on what to do with the grass).

"Hopefully it does (stay as is).

"If the wicket stays like it is today it will be a three-dayer, especially with two fantastic bowling attacks."

Carter confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he had thoughts on what to do with a "furry and green" surface that scared him, but wouldn't act without Domingo and Smith's approval.

Clarke wasn't keen to cry foul about Carter's kowtowing.

"It doesn't bother me, that's a big part of playing international cricket, you travel the world and play in different conditions," the Australia captain said.

"It's a big part our game that the captain, especially, can communicate with the groundsman in his home country and produce the wicket that is best suited to their team."

Smith, Domingo and his assistant coaches inspected the pitch and had lengthy discussions with Carter before South Africa started training on Tuesday.

A similar chain of command exists at many cricket grounds, however the process is usually not as overt or explicitly admitted to.

England captain Alastair Cook put Australian noses out of joint in the 2013 Ashes when he suggested pitch doctoring was "what home advantage is".

Carter will find it hard to create a strip that makes Johnson easy to play.

"Slow wicket, quick wicket - if a guy's bowling at 150km/h it's quick," Morne Morkel said.

Johnson holds the key to Australia posting a victory that would seal their first Test seres win on foreign soil since defeating West Indies 2-0 in April 2012.

The left-armer was often unplayable at Centurion, but his brutal blows to the head and body would have featured just as much in Domingo's post-match analysis.

Ryan McLaren, left bloodied by a Johnson bouncer, will miss the second Test due to post-concussion syndrome.

Left-armer Wayne Parnell is favourite to replace fellow allrounder McLaren, however Clarke expected selectors may opt for a batsman.

Regardless of Domingo's instructions, St George's Park is set to be a slower pitch than Centurion and not offer as much uneven bounce.



Overall: Played 89; Australia 49, South Africa 20, drawn 20

At Port Elizabeth: Played 5; Australia 3, South Africa 2, drawn 0

In South Africa: Played 48; Australia 27, South Africa 12, drawn 9

Australia's record in 2014: Played 2; won 2, lost 0, drawn 0

Last series: South Africa win 1-0 in 2012 (draw in Brisbane, draw in Adelaide, South Africa 309-run win in Perth)

Last series in South Africa: Drawn 1-1 in 2011 (South Africa 8-wicket win in Cape Town, Australia 2-wicket win in Johannesburg)

Forecast for Thursday: chance of rain with a top of 27C


Possible teams:

Australia - David Warner, Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan, Shaun Marsh, Michael Clarke (capt), Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon

South Africa - Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel


Potential records:

*South Africa need a draw to keep alive their hopes of a first Test series win over Australia at home since the ICC's apartheid-inspired ban ended in 1994

*Victory for Australia would mean their first Test series win on foreign soil since beating the West Indies 2-0 in April 2012

*Presuming Shane Watson does not play, the only survivors from the XI that won the third Test against the West Indies in 2012 are: Michael Clarke, David Warner, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon

*Mitchell Johnson needs six wickets to overtake Jason Gillespie and rise to sixth on Australia's all-time Test wicker-takers.

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