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Australia's batsmen cannot blame the pitch for their lowest total in 109 years. And there are men in this team who will not have impressed the new selection panel
November 10, 2011
When he was appointed Australia's assistant coach in May, Justin Langer spoke of the blurred line between technical and mental flaws. Experienced batsmen, he said, have the techniques to score runs, so when they struggle, it is often the result of a cluttered mind.
"That's what mental toughness is about," he said at the time, "having 100% attention on the next ball bowled to you."
The batsmen of both teams displayed the attention-spans of two-year-olds at Newlands. Twenty-three wickets fell in a heap, and all four innings were featured in a single day.
Instead of mental toughness, the batsmen suffered a collective nervous breakdown. To be dismissed for 47 is bad enough, but the Australians were lucky not to record the lowest Test total of all time. The record is 26; at one point they were 21 for 9.
On days like this, statistics are fascinating but often misleading. A fan waking up on Friday morning in Australia could check the scores, see that Australia's disaster followed South Africa being dismissed for 96 and assume the pitch was a mess. It wasn't. The chaos was in the batsmen's minds.
And there are men in the Australian line-up who could not afford such a display on the day a new selection panel was assembled. John Inverarity's group will look at Brad Haddin's dismissals in both innings of this Test and wonder what value he offers the team.
It is a valid question. After play, Michael Clarke described the shot selection of the entire Australian top order as "disgraceful". He did not single out any individuals, but anyone watching the match could see that Haddin's dismissal was the worst of a bad bunch.
At 18 for 5, he was the last of the recognised batsmen. Instead of concentration he chose conflagration, blazing away to the leg side and trying to smash Vernon Philander over off. He edged behind for a duck. He had also thrown his wicket away in the first innings.
Haddin is 34 and has been in poor form since the end of the World Cup. His likely successor, Tim Paine, is injured, but Matthew Wade is piling up runs for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield. If Haddin's days are not numbered, they will be soon.
Ricky Ponting is another man whose fate the new selectors might need to reassess. Like Haddin, he was not done in by excessive seam, but by poor judgment. For the second time in the match, he walked across his stumps, missed a straight ball and was lbw. He has not made a Test century in nearly two years, and Usman Khawaja is ready for Test cricket.
Kepler Wessels: Australia's batting ordinary
Michael Hussey recklessly flashed at a ball he should have left, but his form makes him one of the least vulnerable batsmen in the side. Still, he let the side down on this occasion.
Inverarity's panel might not have the final say on the team's batting order, but they may also be concerned about Shane Watson continuing to open the batting. He bowled wonderfully in South Africa's first innings, swinging the ball and collecting 5 for 17. Immediately when the innings finished he came out to bat, and failed to put bat on a straight ball.
The presence of Shaun Marsh in the squad means the team has a ready-made replacement opener. Marsh batted at No. 10 in this innings due to his bad back, and he was lbw to a ball that kept low. Under normal circumstances, he has been one of the most level-headed men in the batting order. Australia missed him enormously No. 3 this time.
Marsh was one of the few men who could blame the pitch for his dismissal. Clarke fell to a delivery that seamed sharply, as did Phillip Hughes and Ryan Harris. The rest convinced themselves batting would be difficult and made it so.
Of course, struggling to handle good seam and swing bowling is as much a concern as poor judgment. At Headingley last year against Pakistan and at the MCG on Boxing Day against England, Australia were dismissed for less than 100, failing to adjust to the difficult conditions.
By Langer's reckoning, that makes it a mental problem. It is one that needs to be rectified; the Australians will face quality movers of the ball like James Anderson and Dale Steyn many times in the coming years. As Clarke showed in the first innings, there are ways to survive.
Not that South Africa were a great deal better in their first innings. Watson and Harris bowled good, full lengths and shaped the ball just enough to cause trouble. After the openers, none of their batsmen reached double figures. The ball was moving in the air and off the seam, but not so much as to be unplayable.
In 2009, these teams competed in a Test series that would decide which of them occupied the No.1 ranking. On today's evidence, neither side is near that level now.
The lunacy that led to 12 wickets falling in the second session of the day was all the more unfathomable after spectators were allowed on the ground during the lunch break. They viewed the roped-off pitch and there were no big cracks, no major grassy spots and no indication of the carnage that was to come.
The surface was not easy to bat on but nor was it unplayable. Graeme Smith worked hard in both innings, and Clarke was outstanding on the first day, not to mention the fact that Australia's last pair, Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle, doubled the team's score with their stand.
As each wicket fell, the reaction around the ground was one of disbelief. Surely the pitch isn't that bad? It wasn't, but the batting was.
And some of the Australian culprits will nervously await their first chat with Inverarity.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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