"It's no secret that Dale [Steyn] hasn't bowled well to left-handers" ... Australian coach Mickey Arthur. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
THE words slipped out of Mickey Arthur's lips before he had realised. ''It's no secret that Dale [Steyn] hasn't bowled well to left-handers,'' Australia's coach said, 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] just gives us another left-hander in the top order.''
"[Dale Steyn's] a phenomenal bowler but [Quiney - pictured] just gives us another left-hander in the top order" ... Australian coach Mickey Arthur. Photo: Getty Images
The result was a significant, albeit brief, insight into the Australian team's thinking as their batsmen prepare to confront South Africa's spearhead Steyn 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 feel they are better placed to handle what Steyn directs at them because of their 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 personnel 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.
"He's bowled a lot better to right-handers than to left handers" ... Australian coach Mickey Arthur on South African paceman Dale Steyn, pictured. Photo: AFP
Steyn's comparative success rate against left and right-handers backs 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 subduing Steyn, however. While the Proteas pace leader may not fancy taking aim at lefties, his much taller colleague in the South Africa attack, Morkel, loves bowling to them.
''Australia go with 3 lefties upfront M. Morkel will be smiling!'' tweeted former Australian all-rounder Tom Moody, now a commentator, on Monday. ''Morne Morkel has made it his duty to make life impossible for lefties around the world his attack around the wkt is a sight to see!''
There was no better example than during South Africa's most recent Test series - a 2-0 win in England - when he towered over then England captain Andrew Strauss, flummoxing the veteran left-hander by coming around the wicket, with his subtle pace and acute bounce delivered from a soaring release point. At the close of the series, Morkel had dismissed Strauss eight times in 11 Tests.
Three months later, all the pre-series attention has been on Steyn and Philander, the world's No.1 and No.2 bowlers, but against leftie after leftie the 1.96-metre Morkel looms as a wildcard. The 28-year-old did not play in the Proteas' tour match in Sydney at the weekend, rested instead after featuring heavily in the Champions League Twenty20, but Quiney said he had been content to face a pumped-up Steyn before his Test debut.
''I think he ramped it up a little bit more to Hughesy [Phillip Hughes] than to me but, from the other end, he was bashing the wicket pretty hard,'' Quiney said.
''I've seen him as he goes up the gears so I'm hoping I can still combat him somehow.''
with JESSE HOGAN