Australia in South Africa 2013-14

Doolan glitters but Hughes abides

Daniel Brettig in Johannesburg

February 7, 2014

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Alex Doolan drives during his innings of 161, Australia A v South Africans, Sydney, 2nd day, November 3, 2012
File photo: Australia hope Alex Doolan can replicate his scoring for the A team against South Africa in 2012 © Getty Images
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If Alex Doolan is favoured to be Australia's No. 3 batsman against South Africa in the forthcoming Tests then at least Phillip Hughes is running him to a close finish. Doolan and Hughes demonstrated their attributes but also their foibles in the squad practice match at the Wanderers, right under the nose of the coach, selector and umpire-for-a-day, Darren Lehmann.

The posting of Doolan at three meant a demotion for Shane Watson, who batted for around an hour at No. 6 before succumbing to the nicely modulated spin of Nathan Lyon on a surface that had been used by the hosts for their own preparatory fixture over the preceding three days. But Doolan's certainty of a Test debut was eroded somewhat by a brief if breezy stay that contrasted with Hughes' less attractive but notably more dogged and substantial occupation in the afternoon.

Potchefstroom's poor weather and the availability of a pitch at the Wanderers created the curious sight of the Australians trying their best to play a match with the 15 players at their disposal. Lehmann, Craig McDermott, John Davison and Dene Hills umpired, while Brad Haddin, David Warner and a local intern shared the gloves. Mike Young subbed in for one dicey over from Ryan Harris using only his baseball mitt and, as the day drew to a close, Lehmann could be seen prowling the covers.

He had cause to ponder his batting order for the Centurion Park Test, a long-time fortress for South Africa's pacemen. Despite entering the tour with few runs of any kind behind him - let alone relevant ones - in the Big Bash League, Doolan has been groomed for the role from the moment the tourists' plane touched down in Johannesburg. He has repeatedly batted immediately after Chris Rogers and David Warner in the net practice roster and on Friday walked to the centre of the empty "Bullring" at the fall of the first wicket.

Looking unhurried in defence and assured on the drive, Doolan glided to 25 against Harris, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle, before shouldering arms to a James Pattinson delivery that seamed back at him and tilted back off stump. It was an innings typical of much of Doolan's career, which until the past two seasons had been characterised by pretty performances that often ended before becoming substantial.

Doolan first choice for first drop - Hughes

  • Phillip Hughes has no illusions about where he stands in the pecking order for Australian batting spots, all but conceding Alex Doolan will get the nod at No. 3 despite Hughes' feisty 83 in the intra-squad practice match at the Wanderers.
  • "[Alex] was obviously selected before me, so myself coming over late I basically know where I stand, but I'm happy to be in the squad," Hughes said. "I'm not sure what they'll do, if I play or don't play, to be here to help the boys is a good thing. All you can do is be ready if I do get that opportunity."
  • The maturing of Hughes' game was evident in his innings, which commenced slowly in the unfamiliar post of No. 7 before blossoming later. "You've got to judge the situation of the game. Early on I took a fair few balls to get going, I really wanted to get the pace of the wicket and it was that type of wicket where it was doing a little bit," he said. "It was a really good hit out today for everyone to be out in the middle, there's no better place to play than out there. Far better than the nets."

Nonetheless, Australia's planners have seemed wedded to the idea of drafting in Doolan against the South Africans to try to replicate some of his better first-class innings. These included a commanding century to guide Tasmania's successful chase of a significant fourth-innings target against New South Wales in November, and a pristine, unbeaten 161 against Graeme Smith's tourists in 2012.

His aesthetically pleasing gait at the crease is a world away from Hughes' idiosyncratic and endlessly tinkered technique, but the latter's unquenchable appetite for runs and centuries (three in Tests, 24 in first-class matches, three this summer for South Australia) has kept forcing him back on to the selectors' horizon. Occasionally edging, and eluding one beseeching lbw appeal from Siddle, Hughes hung around longest of all the batsmen despite coming in at No. 7. He did not reach a century, departing lbw to Johnson.

For the evening session he was accompanied by Johnson, who struck the ball with the clarity of man still flushed with Ashes confidence, and Haddin. Others did not fare quite so well. Rogers was out to a good one from Harris, shaping in then seaming away, while Warner and Michael Clarke each perished to presumptuous swings at the first ball of a Lyon spell. Steven Smith was given out caught behind for a duck by McDermott but seemed understandably reluctant to leave so soon.

Of the bowlers, Harris, Johnson and Siddle were precise, swift and persistent respectively, their places assured ahead of the rest. Pattinson did have his moments, moving the ball at a fuller length while McDermott looked on from his umpiring perch, and may well come into contention should a fourth seamer or reinforcement be required during the Tests.

Selected scores: Hughes 83, Watson 34, Doolan 25, Clarke 22, Warner 22, Lyon 3-60, Harris 2-19, Pattinson 2-42, Siddle 1-34, Johnson 1-44

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

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Posted by Davidgold on (February 12, 2014, 0:29 GMT)

@ ScottStevo - pretty bizarre comment to first suggest that we "forget about his overall career average as we all know it's not good enough" and then go on to defend him as an opening bat. The figures I posted I don't reckon are garbage as they are his actual scores in his past 48 test innings. 37 of them batting at either 1 or 3.

2 tons in the past 7 tests at 3. True. One in a dead rubber lost cause - so yes, pretty to watch - but no real substance to it. His 103 in the last series was good, but more like a 20/20 bash against a spiritless attack. His 83* in Melbourne was the best of the lot IMO. Nevertheless, he's a serial underperformer. Not really fair to compare him to Warner as he's had a lot more opportunities than Warner. Warner is growing in his role. Watson goes round in circles as the eternal 'gunna'. He's 'gunna' make # 3 his own. Personally I wouldn't have him in the team. I'd bat Hughes at 3 and stick with him for a good time.

Posted by ScottStevo on (February 10, 2014, 14:36 GMT)

@DavidGold, forget about his overall career average as we all know it's not good enough. What is good enough is Watson at opener for Aus averages 41 (one D Warner I don't hear anyone complaining about averages around the same) and 42 at #3. A lot of numbers on your previous post - most of them garbage as you forgot to check where Watson was batting. Also, these last years with Arthur at the helm have possibly been the worst for Watson as Arthur screwed him royally by first retaining Cowan in the opening spot that should've remained as hiss - as his 41 average would attest, then moved him up and down the order. At number 3 he's made 2 tons in 7 tests and a match winning 83*. None of those were under any pressure whatsoever though, right, so aren't worth noting...I'm not saying Watson is a great batsman, or a great #3, he isn't, but he's the best we've currently got - and he's way, way better at 1,2,3 than down the order - from 5-11 he avg's 20. Obviously he doesn't like waiting to bat!

Posted by ygkd on (February 10, 2014, 1:47 GMT)

Australia have the "best attack in the world". That is why Henriques will play. The attack is that good that an extra seamer is essential. Actually, one could almost feel sorry for Henriques. He has had some very big names talking him up for years - a millstone around his not-so-Herculean neck. If he does get a run, I hope he gets a better-fitting role than Watson's had. Watson has been the lower-middle-order all-rounder many look for, when fit to bowl - which admittedly isn't all that often, and so he's been shunted up the order where he should never have been. Again, I somehow remember one of those big names of Australia's cricketing yesteryears saying that Watson could fill that role. He didn't. And he can't. Spot specialists used to be the go when these commentators were playing. Now they've swallowed the modern limited-overs mantra of shove 'em in anywhere. No wonder the batting looks weak, Clarke, Rogers & Haddin aside. Steyn, Morkel & Philander will all be fighting for the ball.

Posted by MinusZero on (February 10, 2014, 0:11 GMT)

Well said Davidgold. I cant understand the obsession with Watson in tests. Something dodgy going on behind the scenes i think. Statistically speaking, he is a average test batsman at best, definitely not top order. Its almost an insult to other classy number 3's like Sanga.

Posted by Davidgold on (February 9, 2014, 21:30 GMT)

@Samwintson - we'll just have to agree to disagree on Watson. An overall test average of 36 is nowhere near good enough for a #3 batsman. Yes he scored an Ashes hundred in Oz and a dead rubber 176 in England. I'd like to see him compile an innings under pressure where he makes an authoritative first innings statement and sets the tone of the match. That's what real quality #3's do. Amla, Ponting, Trott (when he was well), Sanga, Pujara is heading in that direction. They give stability and dependability. Watto is about as dependable as his calf. On Doolan - no idea why the selectors went with him ahead of Hughes. Hughes should bat at 3 and be given a long chance to establish himself there. Watson at 6 when he's fit. Henriques Schmenriques. He aint no test player.

Posted by Beertjie on (February 9, 2014, 11:18 GMT)

@THE_MIZ on (February 7, 2014, 18:33 GMT), I guess the selection of Henriques conforms to the NSP's obsession with having 5 bowlers and therefore an all-rounder. It will be interesting to see the way they go now with Watto out. Most fans don't want Henriques in and prefer 4 bowlers because we recognize that the latter is not likely to be good enough in either discipline. With Marsh drafted in we are dead-scared he'll come in at Hughes expense. As to whether Doolan deserves a run ahead of Hughes the answer is it was between Doolan and Bailey when the Ashes began. Since then Doolan began to disappoint and Hughes began a great run. However, others needed to be given a go ahead of him, so Doolan replaced Bailey. Hughes should have been in the squad but only got in off the back of Marsh's withdrawal. Now Marsh (who seems to have been picked on the basis only of T20 scores) is back and may leap-frog him into the test team. I'm with those who now say Doolan #3, Hughes #6 after practices.

Posted by SamWintson92 on (February 9, 2014, 7:10 GMT)

@ Davidgold: I've not backtracked. The players who remain in contention or fringe players both carry same meaning. Watson's overall test average is 36+ & in the Ashes he averaged 38+. @ Chris_P: I understand your points mate. Nicely written. Now with Watson injured I feel Aus will put Doolan at 6 & Marsh at 3. From what I've seen from Aus selection I reckon, Marsh is certain at 3. But Hughes needs to be there.

Posted by Davidgold on (February 9, 2014, 6:10 GMT)

No doubt dunger.bob. Sutherland, Wally Edwards et al at CA can only see $$$$$. That's their primary interest. They've gutted the first class summer for a meaningless fast food franchise fest. Even the players can see it clear as day. That's why they've called it for to be played in October. No chance of that happening. CA will want to position their 'product' for maximum $$$ and nothing will get in the way of that. Cricket Australia have become corporate spin-meisters of the highest order bowing down at the altar of the holy dollar at the expense of the quality of the game. Shame on them.

Posted by Ducky610 on (February 9, 2014, 6:03 GMT)

I see how people are raising their eyebrows at Doolans based on surface statistics.... However a little more digging gives an idea... Over the last 2 Australian first class seasons (tests & tour matches included), there have only been 8 batsman to average 38+ in both. They have been Clarke (3"100s@82 & 2"100s@42), Warner (1"100@43 & 3"100s @56), Rogers (3"100s@49 & 3"100s@47), Hughes (2"100s@51 & 3"100s@61), Haddin (2"100s@52 & 1"100s@62), Smith (0"100s@40 & 3"100s@59), Doolan (2"100s@52 & 1"100s@39) and Ferguson (1"100s@40 & 1"100s@56)

If you want *repeated* recent form Doolan is hardly a bad option. Marsh is just silly though

@Sir_Ivor I guarantee you Rogers is good enough to face them ... The only reason his average was only 40 over the two series was Swann; SA have a tremendous attack but lack a quality spinner, people can talk up Peterson all they want but at the end of the day he isn't a wicket taker and its reflected in his record

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 9, 2014, 5:36 GMT)

I'd like to say I'd like to see the BBL shortened. Not only did it run out of steam interest wise, but think how much more informed this discussion would have been if the had been a couple of Shield rounds already this year. Maybe then we'd have some idea who's in form and who isn't. As it is though, guys have been playing grade cricket to keep in some sort of nick. .. This will bite us, I'm convinced of it.

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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