South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day February 12, 2014

Record backed choice to bowl - McLaren


'We could've increased our intensity' - McLaren

Ryan McLaren, playing his first Test in four years, confirmed South Africa chose to field first given their record in Centurion and did not base the decision on the surface that was in front of them.

"The statistics going into the game say enough. Most of the Test cricket played at this venue, the team fielding first have ended up winning a high percentage of games," he said. South Africa have fielded first at Centurion 11 times in their history and won nine of those matches, compared to 14 wins out of 18 overall.

Graeme Smith was unsure what to do but the greenish tinge to the pitch convinced him to go with history, even though he also knew if the sun shone enough, the surface would flatten. McLaren admitted South Africa let Australia get away from them when that happened. "It was moving around a bit on the beginning but then it became slowish off the wicket. In the first hour we bowled well and we had an opportunity to make some inroads."

With Australia 98 for 4, McLaren wanted South Africa to push home the advantage but said Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith made that difficult. "They played really well. They had pretty much a chanceless partnership. Shaun adapted well and the longer he stayed there, the easier it became."

By the same token, South Africa did not make the necessary adjustments. McLaren explained that they needed "to err on the side of a fuller length" in the morning and then "pull it to back of a good length" later on as the surface became more sluggish.

He was one of the bowlers who got the first part of that right, bowling fuller earlier on. Overall, McLaren was satisfied with his own performance as he eased into his new role as South Africa's Test allrounder. "I started off all right but it became challenging going into the second and third session," he said. "I know I am going to have to do the hard work and the hard yards. When the wicket is flat my job to block up an end so that Dale and Morne and Vernon can strike."

While Dale Steyn is nursing an upset stomach, which prevented him from going at full throttle today, McLaren hoped he would have recovered by the morning. He is also banking on South Africa to stage one of their familiar comebacks. "Maybe we could have increased the intensity today but this team has shown its character in the past to bounce back the following day."

Australia have six wickets in hand and are already within a whisker of 300 runs but McLaren said South Africa have not set an upper limit for what they will aim to restrict Australia to. "We should not pinpoint any target," he said. "We will just try and build as much pressure as possible. We know they have a few dangerous batters to come."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • H on February 13, 2014, 12:32 GMT

    Johnson is being kept happy with a steady feed of wickets. 3 of SAF's most mediocre including his bunny Smith. no Amla or DEVilliers, though. Meanwhile HARRIS is getting annoyed at being kept out of the party. The nasty stuff may come from him yet.

  • Gary on February 13, 2014, 11:47 GMT

    ah! Our turn to bowl. Think our bowlers will follow the south African Bowler's Pansy act to protect their batsmen from Mitch? GO AUSTRAILIA!!!

  • Gavin on February 13, 2014, 10:54 GMT

    Its too early to say if it was the right decision or not. this decision will validated after the SA innings, or not. batting is usually better on the second and third days here but the pace of the wicket does quicken too so there is more for the bowlers as well. Looks like being a great contest between bat and ball here. Aus edging ahead now with an above par score for the first innings on this ground.

  • Murray on February 13, 2014, 8:23 GMT

    Fear is pretty easy to understand. It started showing when picking 6 bowlers, trying to have 8 batsmen. Perhaps there are 2 of each ? (Although the wicket keeper bats well).

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2014, 8:01 GMT

    Everybody here is quick to forget that SA is the number 1 team in the world! History will show that they will get back in this game and at worst will draw it or even win it. This is a tried and tested unit and haven't failed a lot in the recent years. Smith is also one of the gutsiest captains around revering to is heroics in batting with a broken hand to try and save a test and I think he has a better track record than most captains around. GO PROTEAS!!!

  • rob on February 13, 2014, 7:43 GMT

    @ one-eyed-but-keepinitreal : I'm sorry mate, must be a case of mistaken identity. I said it's a genuine risk to send the other team in. .. for what it's worth though, good bowlers can bowl well in the fourth innings on any wearing pitch. Lines and especially lengths have to change slightly and I think the slower ball is way under used in Test cricket but a wearing pitch is nothing to pray for as a batsman. .. I actually have a theory about Perth too. .. Captains see the green tinged, spring loaded pitch and get excited. Can't wait. Must bowl. .. pretty soon they discover it's just like any other pitch in that you still have to bowl well to get good players out. .. Having said all that this test ain't even really started yet. The Saffers could turn it all around shortly.

  • Logan on February 13, 2014, 7:24 GMT

    Why bring in someone who has a running stomach?,is SA so confident that they will loose a game without Steyn.

  • Android on February 13, 2014, 5:36 GMT

    I think south africa will lose because jack quallis retirement as after sachin retirement indian losing now like that and over cricket is like a drama

  • Great on February 13, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    One wonders if the statistic Smith was worried about was the fact that Johnson has broken his hand twice! Perhaps he was a bit fearful of batting first on a lively Centurion track?

  • David on February 13, 2014, 4:11 GMT

    Dunger.bob, it's not just a Centurian thing where the side batting second holds a significant advantage. Just looking at the Aus/SA test series in South Africa, since readmission, 11 out of 17 tests have been won by the side batting second with one draw (the side batting second was well ahead at the end of the first innings). South Africa have only won one of the renainig five batting first. Like the WACA it seems that SA produces wickets that improve as the innings progress. This us why the WACA holds the wirkd record chase which was recently almost surpassed by the Wanderers.

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