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March 2, 2009
It's no real surprise that fast bowling emerged as the key difference between Australia and South Africa at the Wanderers, where discipline is required to make the most of the seam- and swing-friendly conditions. But what few expected was that South Africa's imposing attack of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel would be outshone by Australia's unheralded group of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus.
South Africa's trio had played a combined 144 Tests compared to the 22 matches that Australia's fast men had under their belts. However, South Africa's bowlers consistently dropped the ball too short while Australia's men stuck to the team plan of sending down fuller, swinging balls and Graeme Smith was in no doubt that it was the major reason his side failed.
"We never were precise enough with the ball throughout the match even though yesterday we bowled Australia out for a pretty low total," Smith said following South Africa's 162-run defeat. "At the Wanderers there's a really good contest between bat and ball. You need to be precise with your lines and lengths.
"They achieved better areas than us with the ball, putting our batters under more pressure than we put theirs under. That was the difference at the end of the day. For the first time in a long time we haven't achieved the results with the ball that we have over the last period of time. Our bowling attack has the ability, there's no doubt about that, and we've just got to improve those levels in Durban."
Australia's youthful bowling unit was led by Johnson, who was the Man of the Match for his eight wickets and unbeaten 96 in the first innings. The exhausted Johnson said by the time the fifth morning rolled around he was feeling "flat", which was a worrying sign as Australia needed another eight wickets to claim victory.
It was Siddle and the medium-pacer Andrew McDonald who made the early breakthroughs and Hilfenhaus applied impressive pressure. Johnson finished the task by grabbing two wickets in the final ten overs and he said there was a positive feeling in the enthusiastic young group.
"Before this tour, the last Test in Sydney it was starting to click," he said. "We had a lot of young players in the side then. Coming over here, the boys are a very tight-knit group. Sidds and myself get on very well and are always talking. Hilfy playing his first Test bowled extremely well. I'm very excited about the group that we've got at the moment and just looking forward to the future."
The immediate future means Friday at Kingsmead. South Africa have three days to regroup but 1-0 down is not an unfamiliar position for them. Last summer against West Indies, South Africa lost the first Test at Port Elizabeth before coming back to take the series 2-1 and the previous season against India they also returned from one-down to win the three-game series.
"It's probably a bad habit to be getting into," Smith said. "We probably haven't always started at our best in South Africa. It's an unfortunate thing and it's tough to put our finger on why it happens. We know what we are capable of and if we play to that level we can win the Durban Test match.
"We also know Ricky [Ponting] is not going to give it to us on a platter. We are going to have to earn it. The confidence is still there, the confidence of knowing we can match Australia and we've just got to go out there and perform better than them and put it into play in the middle."
South Africa have the option of altering their attack with the inclusion of Albie Morkel in the squad to replace the injured Lonwabo Tsotsobe. However, it's unlikely they will tinker with the group that performed so strongly in Australia.
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