Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 7, 2014

Doolan glitters but Hughes abides

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.

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