Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 6, 2014

'We've got to be really proactive' - Lehmann

As was the case in England last year, Australia will have to overcome the hiccups of their early days on tour. In Darren Lehmann, however, they have a mentor capable of invention
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Darren Lehmann first took command of Australia on the very day the team gathered in Taunton for the start of the Ashes, having hurriedly accepted Cricket Australia's offer to replace Mickey Arthur as coach. During a subsequent tour match against Worcestershire he donned a baggy green and ran drinks to the team, a gesture of fun but also an indicator of how involved he wished to be.

Seven months on, and Lehmann has again been a late arrival to the tour, having shepherded the Twenty20 team to a series win over a bedraggled England. This time an element of chaos has been added to the tour by reasons of weather rather than a change of mentor, forcing the Australians out of their Potchefstroom training base and robbing them of a formal warm-up match.

Instead, they are to play a two-day intra-squad fixture in Johannesburg from Friday, and Lehmann will again find himself in the thick of things. Rather than running drinks, he will join the bowling coach Craig McDermott in monitoring the players' progress as makeshift umpires. From that vantage point they will deliberate on the readiness of the bowlers but more pointedly the batsmen - the man to replace George Bailey will be one of Alex Doolan or Phillip Hughes, neither having played a first-class match for more than a month.

"It's been tough, there's been no Shield games, but that's programming and we can't do anything about that," Lehmann said of the scratchy preparation for his fringe batsmen. "The Big Bash has been an unbelievable tournament for CA and the players, so we've just got to live with that. They've both been good, everyone has. I can't complain where they're going and both those guys will come into contention, so from our point of view they've just got to be ready to play.

"We're lucky enough that we've had obviously a long summer, so they've been playing and it's really about fine tuning on how to play against South Africa. We've moved past England, we've got to move forward and we're taking on the best team in the world at their home grounds.

"For us it's about winning away from home and we didn't do that much last year, and no team won away from home full stop last year. For us to get to where we want to, we have to start winning away from home."

Such a cursory preparation for a duel with the world's best team may be cause for alarm, yet it must also be said that Lehmann has enjoyed a far more immersive planning phase for this tour. He has helped select the squad, formulate strategies and identify roles for players. His support staff has been refined, losing Steve Rixon but gaining others. He has also established his chosen "brand" of cricket with Australia's players, and now wants to see if it can be applied as successfully on the road as it was at home.

The conditions in which they will try to play with the aggression and cohesion shown against England is a matter for some conjecture, and Lehmann is trying to balance the notions of steeling the batsmen for dicey tracks while also guarding against the snowball effect of preconceptions weighing down the minds of his players. The ground staff at Centurion Park have been slow in revealing their chosen strip, tired pitches alternating with those of a verdant green hue.

To that end, the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney may prove useful. Its capricious nature drew sharp criticism from Lehmann in the aftermath, but on day one forced a bold counter-attack by Brad Haddin and Steve Smith following the loss of early wickets. Anyone who saw Lehmann bat for South Australia at the Gabba or Yorkshire at Headingley will know his method on seaming pitches was to make sure he made swift runs, not bothering to wait patiently for the unplayable ball.

"It was a bit of get them before they get you sometimes," he said. "I think we played that way in Sydney to be perfectly honest, Smith and Haddin certainly took the game to England in that game, so from our point of view we've got to be really proactive if it's going to be like that.

"Blokes have been preparing for that, having a look at the wicket - I don't know which one it is at the moment. So that'll be the interesting thing over the next few days, to see which wicket we'll play on. I think with the weather around, and overcast, it'll be tough for the batters so we'll have to work out what our best XI is to win the Test and go from there."

Opposing Lehmann and Australia will be a South African side unbeaten in all Test series since Ricky Ponting's men surprised them at home in 2009. There is a conservatism to the hosts that Lehmann will hope to take advantage of, but he also noted they have it in them to accelerate at the appropriate moment. The 2012 Perth Test stands out as an example.

"They're the best team in the world. They're very aggressive, they can chop and change between styles. That's a sign of a good side," Lehmann observed. "We'll have to adapt well to their style. They can be aggressive, come at you really hard with the ball and with the bat as well, and then they can obviously settle in if you're on top. We'll have to work pretty hard against them."

Central to that mix of attack and defence is Graeme Smith, their longtime captain. He has been part of South Africa's side long enough that he and Lehmann played against one another, in some of the younger man's first international matches in 2002. At the time Lehmann was a senior pro and confidante for a new ODI captain in Ricky Ponting, while Smith would soon show his unwillingness to knuckle under Australian intimidation by speaking frankly about the sledging of Shane Warne, among others, in the earlier Test series.

If the specific revelations of on-field "banter" engendered some animosity from Australia at the time, Smith's career as a whole has generated a great deal of respect for him among the touring camp. Twelve years later, and Smith is seeking a first home series win over Australia with as much ferocity as Lehmann will be chasing his first Test series win on the road as coach.

"I do remember him getting me out actually at Port Elizabeth [in 2002]. He's been a great player for South Africa over many years," Lehmann said. "He had that ability from the first game, he's a strong character and very South African if you like. I think he's quite strong behind closed doors. He's done very well to captain for so long. For us we have to really, a bit like Alastair Cook, keep him quiet for the whole series."

As was the case in England last year, Australia will have to overcome the hiccups of their early days on tour. In Lehmann, however, they have a mentor capable of invention.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SICHO on February 8, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    @dunger.bob how the hell is a team suppose to win 3 or 4-nil when they keep playing 2 tests series' heh? The last time SA played a 5 match test series was back in 2002/03 season against England and the last time our boys played a 4 match test series was against India in the 2010/11. How are you going to win 3 nils if you keep on playing 2 tests series (with a few odd matches rained out) heh?

  • SlipsGlance on February 8, 2014, 4:50 GMT

    We keep hearing how weak England are, this time from @Extra...Cover: "... Chappell described this as the worst team to leave Australia's shores. In the meantime they've played an even worse English team." and @BindiBasker: "One good series against a struggling England, in aus"

    England were considered more than strong enough three months ago. Remember all the talk about England's clone army of tall quicks who were lining up to commit mayhem on our bouncier tracks? And it's hard to blame England's batting woes on the supposedly difficult conditions here, when Cook, Trott, Bell, Pieterson and Prior all averaged over 50 with the bat here on the previous tour.

    The truth is that starting from the middle of the series in England the threadbare Australians gradually turned themselves into a strong unit while turning England from serious top-two contenders into a rabble. England weren't broken. Australia broke them.

  • SamRoy on February 7, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    My only question remains what happens if Michael Clarke fails as a batsman in this series. If that happens I will be eagerly wanting to know the outcome. Clarke has been covering for two batsman whenever plays against SA. Surely that guy has to fail in one series against these guys (when it will happen I don't know, may be this one, may be next one, may be next to next one, just counting the odds).

  • MakersName on February 7, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    If a team is truly wants to measure itself, I feel you should be looking for series against the best ranked teams, away from home and while the opposition are in good form. The SA tour presents just this opportunity for the AUS team. Bring it in! Even if we lose.

    Also, I will be keen to see how players like Warner, Smith, (Doolan or Hughes) demonstrate the development of their cricketing character at the crease (more than the development of their career stats). Even though you can't measure brittleness, the SA bowling attack will provide the clearest assessment yet of the development of the AUS top 6. Good luck to both teams!

  • on February 7, 2014, 8:55 GMT

    @dunger.bob I think if Australia want to claim they have the best bowling attack in the world they should be able to take 20 wickets in a Test match. Before that series they went 12 tests in a row unable to take 20 wickets! That is a few too many bowling failures. At least not successful enough for my liking.

  • dunger.bob on February 7, 2014, 7:03 GMT

    @ AidanFX : That's an interesting thought. For me, just at the moment, very good will do. .. Great teams spear you threw the heart then dance on your grave. SA don't do that. At least not enough for my liking. Too many 1-0 series home and away in my very humble opinion.

    I'll tell you what though. If SA can drop kick us back to Bondi 2 or 3 nil and do it with flair, I'll seriously reconsider what you said.

  • BindiBasher on February 7, 2014, 6:32 GMT

    @Wellrounded87, I have no idea where this aussie arrogance is coming from. One good series against a struggling England, in aus, and all of a sudden these guys are as good as the proven SA attack? Where is the respect for a unit that has been doing it for years, home and away?

    Steyn has been the best bowler in the world for the last 5 years. Johnson is not his equal and has not even been able to maintain his place in the aussie side over the years.

    Philander is breaking records. Fastest bowler to 100 wickets in 120 years. Harris is an injury prone 34 year old quick.

    Siddle has been a good performer, but while his record may be similar to Morkels, what people dont understand is that Morkel creates enough problems that opportunity opens on the other end. Siddle is up and down

    Lyon is superior to Peterson, but SA will be playing a 4th bowler (parnell or McLaren) and they have 3 spinners in Peterson, Duminy and Faf

    If this SA side were Australian, we would never hear the end of it..

  • Extra...Cover on February 7, 2014, 6:25 GMT

    Just 6 months ago Ian Chappell described this as the worst team to leave Australia's shores. In the meantime they've played an even worse English team. Bets on for SA to re-expose the fundamental mediocrity of this Australian side - where only Clarke and Harris reveal potential for eventual greatness.

  • disco_bob on February 7, 2014, 5:14 GMT

    @camcove, to be fair to Clarke, Cook himself said the attack was the best he has ever faced faced and he did not qualify that by excluding SA who thrashed England at home.

  • on February 7, 2014, 3:41 GMT

    @ Iffat Arxlan Tonmoy Tazzx: Hate to be a spoilsport but we do not have two Johnsons mate! I'd pick Lyon instead. The rest are all fine by me.

  • SICHO on February 8, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    @dunger.bob how the hell is a team suppose to win 3 or 4-nil when they keep playing 2 tests series' heh? The last time SA played a 5 match test series was back in 2002/03 season against England and the last time our boys played a 4 match test series was against India in the 2010/11. How are you going to win 3 nils if you keep on playing 2 tests series (with a few odd matches rained out) heh?

  • SlipsGlance on February 8, 2014, 4:50 GMT

    We keep hearing how weak England are, this time from @Extra...Cover: "... Chappell described this as the worst team to leave Australia's shores. In the meantime they've played an even worse English team." and @BindiBasker: "One good series against a struggling England, in aus"

    England were considered more than strong enough three months ago. Remember all the talk about England's clone army of tall quicks who were lining up to commit mayhem on our bouncier tracks? And it's hard to blame England's batting woes on the supposedly difficult conditions here, when Cook, Trott, Bell, Pieterson and Prior all averaged over 50 with the bat here on the previous tour.

    The truth is that starting from the middle of the series in England the threadbare Australians gradually turned themselves into a strong unit while turning England from serious top-two contenders into a rabble. England weren't broken. Australia broke them.

  • SamRoy on February 7, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    My only question remains what happens if Michael Clarke fails as a batsman in this series. If that happens I will be eagerly wanting to know the outcome. Clarke has been covering for two batsman whenever plays against SA. Surely that guy has to fail in one series against these guys (when it will happen I don't know, may be this one, may be next one, may be next to next one, just counting the odds).

  • MakersName on February 7, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    If a team is truly wants to measure itself, I feel you should be looking for series against the best ranked teams, away from home and while the opposition are in good form. The SA tour presents just this opportunity for the AUS team. Bring it in! Even if we lose.

    Also, I will be keen to see how players like Warner, Smith, (Doolan or Hughes) demonstrate the development of their cricketing character at the crease (more than the development of their career stats). Even though you can't measure brittleness, the SA bowling attack will provide the clearest assessment yet of the development of the AUS top 6. Good luck to both teams!

  • on February 7, 2014, 8:55 GMT

    @dunger.bob I think if Australia want to claim they have the best bowling attack in the world they should be able to take 20 wickets in a Test match. Before that series they went 12 tests in a row unable to take 20 wickets! That is a few too many bowling failures. At least not successful enough for my liking.

  • dunger.bob on February 7, 2014, 7:03 GMT

    @ AidanFX : That's an interesting thought. For me, just at the moment, very good will do. .. Great teams spear you threw the heart then dance on your grave. SA don't do that. At least not enough for my liking. Too many 1-0 series home and away in my very humble opinion.

    I'll tell you what though. If SA can drop kick us back to Bondi 2 or 3 nil and do it with flair, I'll seriously reconsider what you said.

  • BindiBasher on February 7, 2014, 6:32 GMT

    @Wellrounded87, I have no idea where this aussie arrogance is coming from. One good series against a struggling England, in aus, and all of a sudden these guys are as good as the proven SA attack? Where is the respect for a unit that has been doing it for years, home and away?

    Steyn has been the best bowler in the world for the last 5 years. Johnson is not his equal and has not even been able to maintain his place in the aussie side over the years.

    Philander is breaking records. Fastest bowler to 100 wickets in 120 years. Harris is an injury prone 34 year old quick.

    Siddle has been a good performer, but while his record may be similar to Morkels, what people dont understand is that Morkel creates enough problems that opportunity opens on the other end. Siddle is up and down

    Lyon is superior to Peterson, but SA will be playing a 4th bowler (parnell or McLaren) and they have 3 spinners in Peterson, Duminy and Faf

    If this SA side were Australian, we would never hear the end of it..

  • Extra...Cover on February 7, 2014, 6:25 GMT

    Just 6 months ago Ian Chappell described this as the worst team to leave Australia's shores. In the meantime they've played an even worse English team. Bets on for SA to re-expose the fundamental mediocrity of this Australian side - where only Clarke and Harris reveal potential for eventual greatness.

  • disco_bob on February 7, 2014, 5:14 GMT

    @camcove, to be fair to Clarke, Cook himself said the attack was the best he has ever faced faced and he did not qualify that by excluding SA who thrashed England at home.

  • on February 7, 2014, 3:41 GMT

    @ Iffat Arxlan Tonmoy Tazzx: Hate to be a spoilsport but we do not have two Johnsons mate! I'd pick Lyon instead. The rest are all fine by me.

  • wellrounded87 on February 7, 2014, 0:49 GMT

    @ Great_Lion Siddle is a better bowler than Morkel, more wickets, better average, better strikerate better bowler. Johnson at his best is right up there with Steyn and Philander and so is Harris. You are correct that Steyn is more consistent than Johnson but Johnson has performed well in India and in South Africa in the past.

    But you are forgetting the biggest thing. An attack isn't 3 quicks. You ignore the fact that Lyon is leaps and bounds ahead of Peterson and without Kallis SA have a rather large hole to fill. Watson is an excellent bowler and while Steyn and Philander are better than MJ and Harris. Siddle Watson Lyon are so far ahead of Morkel Peterson and TBA that Australia does have a better all round attack.

    You don't know much of anything if you don't understand that. This is also not a basis of one series. Australia has been competitive in a lot of series that they really shouldn't have been based purely on the potency of their attack.

  • bren19 on February 7, 2014, 0:31 GMT

    I like to photo attached to the article - maybe Boof should get a run at number 6!

  • disco_bob on February 7, 2014, 0:16 GMT

    Whether we win lose or draw this series, I'll be happy just to see some sign of improvement in the top order batting stability.

  • camcove on February 7, 2014, 0:13 GMT

    Great_Lion - It's a sad world if Clarke's stating his "humble" opinion that his side's attack is currently the best (where the main comparison he was making was to Australian sides that he has played with in previous series) is construed as insulting to the SA attack. Somehow, storm in a teacup doesn't seem adequate as an expression or metaphor. Just as an aside, before SA toured England last, I could not even guess who the winner would be but confidently predicted it would be close. My confidence that the English would do well was based on the belief that the English attack in English conditions would at least match the SA attack. Needless to say, I was very wrong indeed. That series wasn't close at all. My point is that the fact that the English attack had been awesome and consistent in the previous two years counted for nought in that series. If the Aussie attack performs to the standard they did against England, you will see why Clarke has his opinion. Let's see what happens.

  • Cantbat.Cantbowl.CantField. on February 6, 2014, 23:21 GMT

    @Iffat Arxlan- Johnson's ability to bat twice and bowl spin will be crucial on this tour. Poor Garry...

  • Shaggy076 on February 6, 2014, 22:36 GMT

    Great_Lion; Its funny how you talk about Clarke respecting South Africa when you have given Clarke no respect at all and never bothered to read his comments. Clarke used the words in my biased opinion and seriously every Captain needs to back there bowlers in otherwise, it is pointless even going out there. Clarke NEVER insulted South Africa, so Great Lion show him some respect.

  • AidanFX on February 6, 2014, 22:33 GMT

    SA's stats are very impressive - they should be more or less considered a 'great team' in the same vain Australia were before their time under the sun.

  • chicko1983 on February 6, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    Australia to win 2 or 3 to nil, depending on weather. The great thing about having pay tv meant that I was able to watch the South Africa v India tests straight after the Ashes coverage finished. The Aussies were in a different class to the rest of the "top 4" a month ago. I don't expect anything else to be different. If the Aussies play similarly to then and SA play like they did against India, it will be a swift 3-0 to Australia.

  • on February 6, 2014, 21:18 GMT

    One thing Australia should be worried about is that top 6 batting, when looking at Australia's 1st innings scores in the ashes, only once did they find themselves past 150 with more that 5 wickets in hand (1st Test: 6/132, 3rd Test: 5/143, 4th Test: 6/122, 5th Test 5/97). Haddin\Smith + the bowlers cant always be expected to score another 150 with 4/5 wickets in hand.

    There is a good chance whichever side wins the toss will bowl first. Australia will back their bowlers (as they did over the last 5 tests) and SA will back theirs (As they have for the last 3 years).

    Should be a great contest! Come on Proteas!

  • Great_Lion on February 6, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    if clarke think there bowlers are better than saffas, then clarke can be good competitor for Mr. been. I mean how you rate your bowling side with the result of a just one series.Don't compare dale steyn with johnson.Because steyn was performed consistantly all around the world.He have good record against subcontinent as well.If any one in the team who can compete with steyn is harris.harris is very consistent in his short career.I remember when aussie tour SL, he got lot of wickets including mahela and sanga in couple of times.But johnson and siddle can't come close to the philander and morkel. SA pace trio was performed very consistently in last two years.So dear clarke, learn to respect them.don't insult them with those statements

  • sachin_equal_to_bradman on February 6, 2014, 17:15 GMT

    Indian Fan Here: as far as am concerned, Its gonna be saffa's series..But aussies would give a great torture to saffas...The main bowler to watch out is PHILANDER..Boy this guys is awesome in SA...Steyn and morkel are some kinda on-dimentional..But Philli is dangerous...No disrepect to great steyn though....When india toured we gave SA some fight...Infact we almost won Joberg test but faf played a gem...In durban we ran out of steam..We had good batsmen but lacked bowling...Aussie in my opnion are good bowling side but except clarke none is good...So slightly lesser than indian batting(No disrespect to aussies)...So All the best for both teams

  • on February 6, 2014, 17:13 GMT

    My XI for first Test

    1)Warner 2)Rogers 3)Watson 4)Clarke 5)Smith 6)Doolan 7)Haddin 8)Johnson 9)Harris 10)Siddle 11)Johnson

  • ModernUmpiresPlz on February 6, 2014, 16:52 GMT

    Even if we lose 3-0 as long as we're competitive I'd be happy as an Australian fan. Expecting a series victory would be pretty stupid, but we could make it happen if things happen to fall our way.

    More interested in seeing some genuine improvement and consistency from Warner and Smith, and seeing if either Doolan or Hughes can make it happen. Also how well Lyon does. That's the future of Australian cricket, and this is the real examination after a soft warmup against England.

  • Biggus on February 6, 2014, 15:39 GMT

    @PrasPunter:- Quite possibly mate, but I'd rather expect a Saffer win and be pleasantly surprised if we win than to be bellicose with predictions. There are far too many Nostradamus clones on this site already. I must be getting old........

  • PrasPunter on February 6, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    @Biggus, the team that toured in 2011 is much weaker than the current one - ponting and Huss were on their last legs - Mitch was out of form, Shaun Marsh couldn't buy a run and what not. Inspite of these, we managed to level the series. We are in a better position this time and I wouldn't rule out an Aussie victory - got to play out of skins though !!

  • Biggus on February 6, 2014, 13:22 GMT

    Tough task ahead of us but I'm confident that we'll give the Saffers something to think about. We shouldn't win, but you just never know for sure.

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  • Biggus on February 6, 2014, 13:22 GMT

    Tough task ahead of us but I'm confident that we'll give the Saffers something to think about. We shouldn't win, but you just never know for sure.

  • PrasPunter on February 6, 2014, 15:19 GMT

    @Biggus, the team that toured in 2011 is much weaker than the current one - ponting and Huss were on their last legs - Mitch was out of form, Shaun Marsh couldn't buy a run and what not. Inspite of these, we managed to level the series. We are in a better position this time and I wouldn't rule out an Aussie victory - got to play out of skins though !!

  • Biggus on February 6, 2014, 15:39 GMT

    @PrasPunter:- Quite possibly mate, but I'd rather expect a Saffer win and be pleasantly surprised if we win than to be bellicose with predictions. There are far too many Nostradamus clones on this site already. I must be getting old........

  • ModernUmpiresPlz on February 6, 2014, 16:52 GMT

    Even if we lose 3-0 as long as we're competitive I'd be happy as an Australian fan. Expecting a series victory would be pretty stupid, but we could make it happen if things happen to fall our way.

    More interested in seeing some genuine improvement and consistency from Warner and Smith, and seeing if either Doolan or Hughes can make it happen. Also how well Lyon does. That's the future of Australian cricket, and this is the real examination after a soft warmup against England.

  • on February 6, 2014, 17:13 GMT

    My XI for first Test

    1)Warner 2)Rogers 3)Watson 4)Clarke 5)Smith 6)Doolan 7)Haddin 8)Johnson 9)Harris 10)Siddle 11)Johnson

  • sachin_equal_to_bradman on February 6, 2014, 17:15 GMT

    Indian Fan Here: as far as am concerned, Its gonna be saffa's series..But aussies would give a great torture to saffas...The main bowler to watch out is PHILANDER..Boy this guys is awesome in SA...Steyn and morkel are some kinda on-dimentional..But Philli is dangerous...No disrepect to great steyn though....When india toured we gave SA some fight...Infact we almost won Joberg test but faf played a gem...In durban we ran out of steam..We had good batsmen but lacked bowling...Aussie in my opnion are good bowling side but except clarke none is good...So slightly lesser than indian batting(No disrespect to aussies)...So All the best for both teams

  • Great_Lion on February 6, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    if clarke think there bowlers are better than saffas, then clarke can be good competitor for Mr. been. I mean how you rate your bowling side with the result of a just one series.Don't compare dale steyn with johnson.Because steyn was performed consistantly all around the world.He have good record against subcontinent as well.If any one in the team who can compete with steyn is harris.harris is very consistent in his short career.I remember when aussie tour SL, he got lot of wickets including mahela and sanga in couple of times.But johnson and siddle can't come close to the philander and morkel. SA pace trio was performed very consistently in last two years.So dear clarke, learn to respect them.don't insult them with those statements

  • on February 6, 2014, 21:18 GMT

    One thing Australia should be worried about is that top 6 batting, when looking at Australia's 1st innings scores in the ashes, only once did they find themselves past 150 with more that 5 wickets in hand (1st Test: 6/132, 3rd Test: 5/143, 4th Test: 6/122, 5th Test 5/97). Haddin\Smith + the bowlers cant always be expected to score another 150 with 4/5 wickets in hand.

    There is a good chance whichever side wins the toss will bowl first. Australia will back their bowlers (as they did over the last 5 tests) and SA will back theirs (As they have for the last 3 years).

    Should be a great contest! Come on Proteas!

  • chicko1983 on February 6, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    Australia to win 2 or 3 to nil, depending on weather. The great thing about having pay tv meant that I was able to watch the South Africa v India tests straight after the Ashes coverage finished. The Aussies were in a different class to the rest of the "top 4" a month ago. I don't expect anything else to be different. If the Aussies play similarly to then and SA play like they did against India, it will be a swift 3-0 to Australia.

  • AidanFX on February 6, 2014, 22:33 GMT

    SA's stats are very impressive - they should be more or less considered a 'great team' in the same vain Australia were before their time under the sun.