Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1st day November 9, 2012

Bowlers forget the McDermott mantra

Australia's bowlers were guilty of bowling short on a slower Gabba pitch and their new bowling coach's key task would be to remind them the methods that brought them success last year

There was good news and bad news for Ali de Winter after the first day of Test cricket since he took over from Craig McDermott as Australia's bowling coach. The bad news was that Australia had completed their worst first-day bowling performance ever in a Gabba Test, by letting South Africa reach stumps at 2 for 255. The good news was that de Winter now knows he's not superfluous. His key task is to make sure the McDermott methods are not forgotten.

It is not that Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Lyon were terrible, far from it. They were just a little bit off. And against patient men like Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, a little bit off is all it takes. The attack veered from the consistency that made them so dangerous last summer against India. They still created chances - Siddle was deprived of two wickets by a no-ball and his own butterfingers - but those opportunities were notable because they were so rare.

The pitch didn't help, offering less of the zip and seam movement than first-day Gabba surfaces often provide. There was some cloud cover that provided swing when they pitched full, but too often they dropped short, denying the ball the chance to curve in the air. It wasn't as bad as Australia's bowling in the 2010-11 Ashes, but there was a similar lack of patience. Whether it was first-day nerves or rust, it needs to be rectified quickly.

Most notable was the regression of Hilfenhaus to old habits. During the Ashes he was so predictable that England's batsmen could watch the ball swing out of his hand and play it or leave it knowing there would be no surprises. He re-emerged last summer with an action reworked by de Winter and made India's batsmen play, swinging the ball late and using the crease for variation. There wasn't much of that today.

It is no coincidence that Hilfenhaus has spent most of the past six months bowling with white balls in short formats, where banging the ball in short of a length is common. He didn't get the habit out of his system in Tasmania's Sheffield Shield game last week, when he was outbowled by James Faulkner and Luke Butterworth on the kind of pitch fast men dream about.

Again he erred on the short side early at the Gabba. By the time he started to correct himself, the ball had lost much of its shine. There was one searing yorker that dipped in late and nearly had Alviro Petersen lbw, but it was the only time Hilfenhaus looked dangerous. There is no question that he was underdone coming in to this series. De Winter's task now is to steer him back to the good habits they discussed last year.

Not that Hilfenhaus was alone. Siddle and Pattinson both dropped short at times, and on a slow pitch with little seam movement, that was a mistake. When Pattinson pitched the ball full and allowed it to swing a little - the mantra instilled by McDermott during his year as bowling coach - he had Graeme Smith lbw. But the fact that Australia's fast bowlers didn't create a single genuine chance off the batsman's edge on a first-day Gabba pitch was as telling as the fact that Michael Hussey and Rob Quiney were bowling in tandem as stumps approached.

The only time the slips came in to play was when Lyon was bowling. His economy wasn't quite as bad that of Greece or Spain, but it was a slight worry for Michael Clarke. At least Lyon found turn and bounce and created some half-chances, including an edge off Amla that fizzed past slip, and one wicket when his flight and dip tricked Alviro Petersen into lobbing a catch to mid-on. The omitted Imran Tahir might have been watching with envy, given South Africa should be bowling last.

Of course, it's difficult to make a complete judgment until both teams have bowled. Morne Morkel's bounce might be less of a threat on this slow pitch, but it's hard to imagine Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander failing to find a solution to the surface. Get it up there, attack the stumps and give the ball a chance to swing.

It's the message de Winter should drum into his men overnight, especially with the second new ball available on Saturday morning. After a surfeit of one-day and Twenty20 cricket since he took over from McDermott, de Winter's real job has now begun.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here