When I went to bed last night at tea on the fourth day of the second test match at St George’s Park I was confident of one thing: Australia would make South Africa work for its victory. I woke up at about 3:30am, as men do, and on my way back from the bathroom checked the cricket score on my phone and was proven spectacularly wrong. Having lost 9-88 after the tea adjournment, Australia was thrashed by the Proteas by 231 runs.
Australia, even the Captain admits, was outplayed in ever aspect of the game by the South Africans in this test match and with five days now until the 3rd and final test match have much to work on to best the best team in the world.
Here are my 5 key issues arising out of the 2nd test match that Australia need to address:
- Don’t blame being one bowler short: Much has been made in the press about Australia being one bowler short in this game with Shane Watson recuperating on the sidelines. It would be fair to say that the Australians did look like they were missing that fifth bowler to churn through some key overs but one must not forget that South Africa were also a bowler short once Wayne Parnell hurt his groin after bowling just over 8 overs. The fact is Australia’s bowling attack did not get the job done.
- It can’t all be about OMJ: Mitchell Johnson has bowled brilliantly in the last 6 test matches and showed glimpses of brilliance in this test match however on a wicket that did not support him and against an opposition more attuned to the game than their brethren in English colours he did not have anywhere near the effectiveness as in previously test matches. Unfortunately, at the same time, neither of Peter Siddle nor Ryan Harris had enough impact to compensate.
- Australia still can’t play reverse swing: Don’t get me wrong: the South Africa’s bowled immensely well on day four and, indeed, throughout the whole match. That said, Australia’s performance against the reverse swinging ball on day 4 was horrid at best. They had no answers for it from any of the South African quick bowlers and particularly Dale Steyn. I do not know that there is an easy fix for this however if Australia do not find a way to combat reverse by Saturday they may find themselves in significant bother.
- No middle order heroics puts top order in focus: I wrote earlier in the test match about the frailty of Australia’s top order and again in the second innings of this test match the top order, after the opening gambit of Rogers and Warner, was found wanting. After excellent performances at Centurion, Doolan and Marsh looked out of their depth against the quality fo the South African bowlers and gave only meek resistance in both innings. Unfortunately for them the trio of Clarke, Smith and Haddin could not save their metaphorical bacon as happened in Australia during the Ashes.
- Stop the verbal: I have been lamenting for some time the prevalence of ‘verbal” interplay in Australia’s game plan and again in this game I am certain that verballing the opposition did nothing to enhance Australia’s cause. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no cavil whatsoever with sledging, but there is a time and a place for it. That time and place is not when you are getting hammered by the opposition. From Michael Clarke’s statement about Graeme Smith’s captaincy through to David Warner’s ongoing need to chirp about everything. Australia as a team needs to have a long look at how it uses “the verbal” because it seems in this game it only served to give ammunition to the Proteas.
All in all it was a pretty sorry test match for the men in baggy green. One would be remiss though to not mention some excellent performances that were left unrewarded by defeat:
- Under pressure for his spot, in my view, Chris Rogers played exactly the innings that he was selected for in England. Gritty and determined he looked largely at ease against the swing of the South Africans whilst around him the others perished. As bizarre as it may seem this could well have been a career saving knock for “Buck”.
- Despite my chastisement for his “chat”, David Warner was the pick of the Australian batters, Rogers’ hundred aside and again showed how destructive he can be. He needs to bat for longer though obviously.
- Nathan Lyon was Australia’s best bowler and was rewarded with a first innings “Michelle”. Maligned by many before the Ashes in England it says a lot about this blokes character that he is now mentioned in the same breath as some of the best spinners in the current game at the moment.
So the Australian’s leave Port Elizabeth with much to work on and a confident opponent to defeat and head to Newlands in Cape Town where the South African’s have an imposing records since reintegration back into the international game. Indeed, the only country they have lost a test match to at Newlands is Australia (1994, 2002 and 2006) and go into this match on an 11 game undefeated streak (including 3 draws). The series is certainly well poised.