South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, 2nd day November 10, 2011

Where's the mental toughness?

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
108

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.

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mathewjohn2176 on November 13, 2011, 3:01 GMT

    @5wombats,you forgot that ENGLAND are a laughing stock in India for almost two decades.Forget about one series,England not winning in any single odi in India.First win one odi,then let's talk about winning the series.LOL

  • 5wombats on November 12, 2011, 15:56 GMT

    @dariuscorny - once again the RIDICULOUS EXCUSES; In England "India without their at least 8 players"...@dariuscorny - NAME THEM - NAME THOSE 8 MISSING PLAYERS - NAME THEM....Go on... And most laughable of all..."due to some bad luck India was halted and they were denied 1-2 victories in England". NAME THOSE TEST MATCHES IN ENGLAND WHERE INDIA WERE DENIED VICTORY - NAME THE TEST MATCHES - go on.... STOP KIDDING YOURSELF @dariuscorny - india were a laughing stock in England in the Summer. india were nowhere even close to forcing a draw in ANY of the Test matches. "due to some bad luck"...LOL...

  • dummy4fb on November 12, 2011, 13:15 GMT

    Why did Nathan Lyon even play? Could've given him an extended run for variety in the attack. Hope he doesn't turn into a passenger in the team for this series.

  • dummy4fb on November 12, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    It was a brilliant performance in the 2nd innings from SA, and a really bad performance from Aus. The culprits, first inline batsman with the pathetic choice of shots and bowling ineffective barring watson (who is supposed to be an allrounder). Next step, Johnson and Siddle might have to go and to strengthen the batting Haddin might have to be replaced (continuous failures)

  • dummy4fb on November 12, 2011, 12:01 GMT

    @ wombats- ok India certainly were/are not the number one team..and certainly they dont/dint deserve it...neither does ENGLAND!!... apart from beating a morally deprived aussie team in their own backyard u literally got nothin..!! besides u r yet to travel to the subcontinent (to play tests) wid the numero uno status...so give it some time and ull b back on earth...we Indians got nothin to boast about apart the recent 5-0 whipping we gave u last month..

  • 1st_april on November 12, 2011, 11:34 GMT

    @rahulcricket007 another LOL moment.....SA *fought back* from 6/130 against India in the 3rd test...there was no luck involved...accept it...India overseas success is mainly because of umpiring mistakes against the hosts....that why BCCI doesn't want to use UDRS...

  • dummy4fb on November 12, 2011, 7:21 GMT

    @RandyOZ...I second you on Katich and Siddle. Siddle does not seem to be different from Mitch. Both are in the team due to their 'once upon a time' image thing. That is perhaps more true about Mitch not Siddle though. Katich is one of the finest players in such conditions. He is much better than Haddin any day. Australian selectors really need to some serious thinking. They should also not overburden Watson in such test matches.

  • screamingeagle on November 12, 2011, 6:09 GMT

    This tour if anything would help India when they tour Aus next. lol.

  • timmyw on November 12, 2011, 5:01 GMT

    @RandyOZ - Nope, you aren't the only one. Siddle and Johnson really both have to go. I would love to see an attack that had at least two guys that could move it through the air. We have Watson, but one strike bowler with pace and air movement with accuracy would float my boat. Any of those guys you mentioned would be nice. Cutting would be nice as well, although I disagree strongly with Cummins.

  • RandyOZ on November 12, 2011, 4:06 GMT

    Everyone has commented on Jono, so i'll leave him out, but am I the only one questioning Siddles spot in the side? I know he is a trier but Watto bowled way better. Siddle was absolutely toothless, as he has been since the first test at the Gabba. Can some explain how he is still in the side? Is he immune like Haddin, North, Jono, etc? We seem to have a lot of immune players in the side yet players like Katich get dumped after performing well. What happened to the Argus review? Replace Jono and Siddle with any two of the following: Cummins, George, Coulter-Nile, Hazlewood, Butterworth, Pattinson, Starc, M. Marsh! PLEASE!!

  • No featured comments at the moment.