In
the months since the Ashes disaster cleaned out Jason Gillespie and Michael
Kasprowicz from the Australian cricket side, we’ve had to endure some truly
mediocre pace bowling, leading up to the 9-438 humiliation last week. With
Brett Lee’s form going from white-hot to tepid and Glenn McGrath unavailable, Australia has needed a
pace bowler to stand up.

The
only one to even look like it was Stuart Clark, and he surprised us all by
doing it overnight at Newlands with a devastating 5-55 on his Test debut.

It wasn’t the performance that was
surprising – Clark has been the most
consistent and promising of the new pace attack – but his presence on the
ground at all. Before the game it had seemed a forgone conclusion that Stuart
MacGill would play on a Cape Town pitch
described in all circles as a “turner”. The prospect so frightened the spin-shy
Proteas that they complained about the Newlands ground staff favouring the Australians with a spinning
pitch. No matter how many psychologists they hire, the South Africans are
terrified of Shane Warne.

So
why was Clark selected ahead of MacGill? First and
foremost, on form – Clark has been threatening,
if not actually penetrating, on tour, while MacGill has had a comparatively
quiet season in the Pura Cup.

Second,
the selectors are worried about how hard the exhausted Brett Lee would have to work in a side with fewer
pace options. With all the palaver over the underperforming second-string
bowlers, few have noted that in trying to play both his own role and McGrath’s,
Lee is essentially running two marathons at once.

This
second reason may have been the deciding factor. Defensive though it is, it may
turn out to be the best attacking selection in years from Trevor Hohns’s
suddenly unpopular selection panel.
Clark was the
image of his hero McGrath in destroying the South African top order, while
Warne never broke through, returning 0-20 from his four overs.

Australia needed a
pace bowler to assert himself. Stuart Clark delivered. Do we have our new Pigeon?

Peter Fray

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