Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 27, 2014

McDermott tackles reverse riddle

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Tentative play from Australia's batsmen contributed to the prodigious reverse swing that brought about their Port Elizabeth downfall almost as much as shrewd handling of the ball by South Africa's bowlers and fielders, Australia's bowling coach Craig McDermott has said.

The sharp old-ball movement gained by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander has been the subject of much discussion since the end of the Test, including a mischievous claim by David Warner about potential ball-tampering that has been angrily rejected by the South African team management.

However McDermott said Australia's loss of momentum following Warner's dismissal on the fourth afternoon was as pivotal a factor as any. The dead bats of Alex Doolan (five runs in 61 minutes) and the centurion Chris Rogers repeatedly played deliveries into a dry and course wicket square at St George's Park, an ideal surface on which to rough up the ball.

"Day three, four and five are obviously the best days to bowl reverse, you're getting more wear and tear on the ball, the square's drier and even the outfield's drier. But the major contributing factor is the ball not going into the outfield," McDermott told ESPNcricinfo. "While our openers were getting the ball out into the outfield that first partnership after that we got quite bogged down.

"The ball hits the square a hell of a lot, played back down the wicket, not going anywhere, so therefore the ball is able to be kept dry and gets roughed up, resulting in more reverse swing. Hats off to Dale Steyn who's got an unbelievable Test record and is a very good reverse bowler. You can't take anything away from him and we've just got to make sure that we can do the same in our preparations for this Test match."

It was during Doolan's time at the crease that Morkel began swinging the ball both ways, and his dismissal of the No. 3 heralded a collapse of 5 for 14 in 10 overs, all batsmen out to deliveries curling late in their path down the pitch. The lack of any momentum to Australia's innings was an unfamiliar sight during the Darren Lehmann era, and it is likely the batsmen will be more assertive if so challenged in Cape Town.

The ball hits the square a hell of a lot, played back down the wicket, not going anywhere, so therefore the ball is able to be kept dry and gets roughed up, resulting in more reverse swing.
Craig McDermott

Other moments of import to the condition of the ball included Graeme Smith's decision to resort to part-time spin, the use of bounce throws into the wicketkeeper AB de Villiers and perhaps even Steyn's gesture of angrily kicking at the ball once or twice. Combined with Australia's dallying, this created a perfect storm of swing that no-one save for Rogers could find a way to ride out.

Almost as noteworthy as the amount of swing gained by South African was the almost total lack of any equivalent bend for Australia's fast men. Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have all swung the old ball sharply at times in the past, but in Port Elizabeth their straightness made the hosts' task far easier on a wicket not offering much in the way of pace or bounce.

The discrepancy was a rare question mark against the mentoring of McDermott, who has otherwise built up a highly impressive record as Australia's pace bowling coach over two stints with the Test team. Nevertheless, he was not perturbed by the imbalance, pointing out that South Africa had the better of bowling conditions during the match and that a fresher Australian combination would be capable of more at Newlands in Cape Town.

"We've won a lot of Test matches over the last little bit and we bowled pretty good reverse in Adelaide [during the Ashes], so I'm not too concerned by that," he said. "I'm not certain what we're going to get here, but certainly we'll have a look at that tomorrow when we get to the ground. We spent eight sessions out of 10 in the field, so that's taxing in itself and we'll have six days off until we play in the Test so guys will be fresher and raring to go."

Harris, Siddle and Johnson have all questioned their methods to varying degrees after the Test, having had a run of six consecutive wins overturned by a heavy defeat. McDermott, who has emphasised consistency and unity in his dealings with the pacemen, has counselled them not to over-think things, reminding them of the successes their methods have wrought in recent times.

"A lot of people can do some soul-searching after spending eight sessions out of 10 in the field," he said. "From my point of view I've been there and done that as well, and sometimes you can think about some things you don't really need to bring into your game. They've all been bowling well all summer, we bowled well in the first Test match, and that's only 10 days ago. So no alarm bells from my point of view and we'll see what the wicket shows up for us at Newlands."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on February 28, 2014, 20:12 GMT

    @Chris Howard: 2 reasons why Reverse Swing is harder to play than Conventional Swing: 1) It occurs very late in the trajectory of the ball. 2)Reverse Swing is subject to Pace, the faster the ball is, the more it will reverse, which is why you will often see Dale Steyn reserving his fast balls for once the ball gets older. He consistently reaches the 145kmph mark with the old ball, while bowling in the late 130s with the new ball.

  • dummy4fb on February 28, 2014, 12:46 GMT

    @Katey Agree with you. The scuffing up of the ball would take place anyways. In fact if the batsman hits it in the outfield would mean he would have to hit the ball much harder than when he merely defends, which would mean even more wear and tear of the ball. Have no idea what MacDermott's saying.

  • DustBowl on February 28, 2014, 10:00 GMT

    McDermott has explained it all with a calm measured approach. Top bloke who hasn't had all the credit he deserved for Oz resurgence? CONTRAST THIS to Warner (numerous) and his coach Lehmann (Broad, SL) spouting off to the detriment of the sport and CA.

  • Katey on February 28, 2014, 5:05 GMT

    I can't agree with MacDermott at all. The ball swings because one side is rougher than the other, so offering different air resistance (drag) and causing the ball to veer off a straight path when in flight. How could a batsman defending, ensure that the ball scuffs up on one side only? Likewise when the ball is thrown back from the outfield. There's no way to control which side of the ball hits the deck. The only way to manipulate the ball's surface is either when bowling or through a fielder rubbing it on one side only.

    There may be other factors influencing swing, but they will all come from the bowler ... wrist position, angle of the seam and speed of delivery, maybe other factors. Not from the batsman or fielders. MacDermott needs to learn some basic physics.

  • ShutTheGate on February 28, 2014, 3:16 GMT

    @ Protears

    I think I speak for the majority of Australian fans in saying that we'd be happy to up the series between our countries to 5 matches. That will only give you an extra 2 matches every 18 months but they will be hard fought exciting matches.

  • ShutTheGate on February 28, 2014, 2:49 GMT

    @ GermanPlayer

    They were the best attack in the world a week ago but the Australian attack was the best in the world the week before that. So I suppose it depends on how long you define as "at the moment".

    My point is there are very close and it depends on each match and there is no obvious stand out.

  • Chris_Howard on February 28, 2014, 1:45 GMT

    Does anyone know why reverse swing (once you are aware of it as the batsman) is harder to play than conventional swing?

  • dummy4fb on February 28, 2014, 0:08 GMT

    This article covers an exercise in analysis paralysis! Cricket, especially Test Cricket, is a highly orthodox game with little room for unorthodoxy! MJ is an unorthodox bowler, a slinger like Malinga. who is now strutting his stuff in that funny format called 'T20'. Given this, MJ will be stunted from time, more often than not! If Australia thinks MJ will bowl them to victory from time to time, McDermott and company need to really re-think. If you look at an orthodox bowler like McGrath, you can see why he was so successful. Newlands will be a slightly different pitch to PE and will once again reward orthodoxy, like PE. Looking forward to a keenly-contested decider! I do however think that it is there for SA to win,, simply looking at the bowling line-ups. Harris seems to be hobbling, Siddle is going through the motions, MJ has serious limitations and Lyon should be Australia's most successful bowler should SA bat last,

  • Greatest_Game on February 27, 2014, 22:25 GMT

    @ NalinWikkey gives his opinion that "McDermott's explanation is not totally logical, if it simply ball wear in the square how come when SA batted for 5 sessions, Aust could not get ball to reverse??"

    Don't ever make the mistake of using 'McDermott' and 'logical' in the same sentence. It all goes downhill from there.

  • Greatest_Game on February 27, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    @ PrasPunter replied in agreement to "@pat_one_back , exactly my thought - each team won and lost only when the conditions suited/not suited them. So where exactly is the difference ?"

    Go back one more test to Perth, 2012. There lies the difference.

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