South African fast bowler Dale Steyn in action against Australia A. Photo: Anthony Johnson
THE words slipped out of Mickey Arthur's lips before he had realised. ''It's no secret that Dale hasn't bowled well to left-handers,'' Australia's coach uttered, explaining the selection of Rob Quiney, a third southpaw at the top of the order, in place of the injured Shane Watson for Friday's first Test.
Arthur quickly corrected himself, no doubt wanting to avoid putting an extra motivational spring in the step of the world's top-rated fast bowler four days before their showdown in Brisbane. ''Let me just rephrase that,'' he said. ''He's bowled a lot better to right-handers than to left-handers. He's a phenomenal bowler but [Quiney's selection] just gives us another left-hander in the top order.''
The result was a significant, albeit brief, insight into the Australian team's thinking as its batsmen prepare to confront South Africa's spearhead Dale Steyn (pictured) and his pace offsiders Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel at the Gabba. While it was hastily papered over, the exposure of an opposition star's weakness was a rarity in this time of largely sanitised pre-game commentary and mutual public back-slapping. Australia, beneath the cover of cordiality and with the unique expertise on South Africa that Arthur has, clearly feels it is better placed to handle what Steyn directs at it because of its stocked line-up of lefties. Whether it is a foolproof plan is yet to be seen.
The inclusion of Quiney at No. 3 for all-rounder Watson - a swap confirmed on Monday - leaves Michael Clarke's team with five out of seven left-handers among their genuine batsmen, stretching down to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade. There are three in a row at the top - David Warner, Ed Cowan and now Quiney, who sealed his international call-up by withstanding a ferocious spell of fast bowling from Steyn while batting for Australia A at the SCG on Sunday.
Steyn's comparative success rate against left and right-handers does reflect Arthur's assertion that his fast, sometimes skidding style, repeatedly moving the ball away from the right-hander, is suited to one kind of batsman more than the other. The 29-year-old has bowled 63.18 per cent of deliveries in his Test career to right-handers; of his 287 victims, a larger proportion, 71.08 per cent, were right-handed.
There is a complication in this approach to defusing Steyn, however. While the Proteas pace leader may not fancy taking aim at lefties, Morkel, his much taller colleague in the South Africa attack, loves bowling to them. ''Australia go with 3 lefties upfront M. Morkel will be smiling!'' tweeted former Australian all-rounder Tom Moody.
With JESSE HOGAN