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

Record backed choice to bowl - McLaren

22

'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

  • St0rmbringer 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.

  • bushmasker 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!!!

  • Smahuta 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.

  • Bonehead_maz 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).

  • 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!!!

  • dunger.bob 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.

  • Pavinasen 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.

  • 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_Nate 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?

  • one-eyed-but-keepinitreal 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.

  • St0rmbringer 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.

  • bushmasker 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!!!

  • Smahuta 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.

  • Bonehead_maz 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).

  • 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!!!

  • dunger.bob 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.

  • Pavinasen 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.

  • 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_Nate 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?

  • one-eyed-but-keepinitreal 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.

  • MeijiMura on February 13, 2014, 4:10 GMT

    Totally agree with you @Kirstenfan, it was ridiculous to win the toss and bowl in perfect batting conditions. There was no cloud cover whatsoever and not to make first use of the pitch when it is at its best for batting defies all logic as does basing your decision to bowl first on stats and past history instead of the pitch you have to play on and the overhead conditions at the time. South Africa are famed for not having two poor days in a row. What happens on Day 2 will be fascinating. Will South Africa fight and get themselves back into the contest or will Australia grind them into the ground and all but have the Test won by stumps? We'll find out soon enough.

  • disco_bob on February 13, 2014, 3:53 GMT

    @Akhter786, you've nailed Australia's top secret shortcut to a focussed well oiled bowling machine: Make sure we have a weak top order batting line up and force the bowlers beyond their limitations. Suddenly Watto at 3 makes sense, suddenly giving Warner a license to slash and burn, makes sense, and don't forget to dump a grafter like Hughes and insert a desperate jet lagged shield flop. It's a high risk strategy and it requires a hard boiled Haddin as back up, but as you can see it works. Then once the bowling is sorted, they shame the batters to perform. Which they have, rocketing up the charts from 5 (for not many) to 4 (for not many). How did I not see this earlier <slap head>

  • Akhter786 on February 13, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    In all honesty SA bowlers do not know what to do with once the ball gets older and softer. Same happened against Pakistan New Zealand and India though the damage done with new balls happened to be too much to come over for those oppositions in those games. But here it is Aussie line up and they seem to have started living with it that their top order will seldom fire and late middle order is making it all difficult fot oppositions. Even Steyn Vernon and Morkel look clueless with the old ball. They donot know anything about reverse swing. Inkblot on the best bowling attack. It is high time they hire a bowling coach, may be Waqar or Akram.

  • Ozcricketwriter on February 13, 2014, 2:08 GMT

    They went in with 5 specialist bowlers. 5! In a test match! When Quinton de Kock was available! Going in with 5 specialist bowlers you would think that you want to bat first. But I don't think that the toss was the mistake. Going in with 5 specialist bowlers was the problem, especially when 2 of them - Philander and Petersen - were hopeless.

  • Thegimp on February 13, 2014, 1:40 GMT

    Caution rather than courage will be the historical legacy of Smith's captaincy. Just like not chasing the win against India recently he has let his team and supporters down. Not one supporter would have thought less of him had they attempted to win against India and lost and not one would have been worried had he batted yesterday and got rolled for 220. It's the statement that a leader makes that makes the leader.

  • Cricket_Froth on February 13, 2014, 1:40 GMT

    At 4/90odd Australia looked to be heading for another batting failure and sub-par1st inns total. Finally some spine was displayed in the batting before we got down to number 7. The Marsh-Smith partnership is a fine knock against a top class bowling attack and capable captain. Steve Smith is proving he has the temperament to craft long innings in tough circumstances. Australia should be looking to push 400+. Nathan Lyon could be a real X factor on this pitch, despite all the hype foccussing on the "pace battle" theme. Cricket Froth.

  • Alexk400 on February 13, 2014, 0:36 GMT

    I think SA might lose this test.

  • VillageGreen on February 12, 2014, 23:44 GMT

    SA are No1 because they respond to the challenge when the opposition get in front. Will be fascinating, though SA have given the Aussies encouragement that will now need pacifying…the Aussies know they gave 3 wickets away from undisplined batting and have a record for getting it right in the 2nd innings.

  • dunger.bob on February 12, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    It's always dodgy to send a team in. I've no idea what the overall stats are but it only seems to work half the time at best. The rest of the time you're just handing the advantage over to the opposition.

  • Kirstenfan on February 12, 2014, 21:47 GMT

    Really pathetic selection by SA, but not a surprise. Peterson had better get runs, because he is not anywhere close to test class with the ball. Amazed smith chose to bowl, it's defensive and to do so based on stats is amazing.

  • Number_5 on February 12, 2014, 19:01 GMT

    I guess you have to back your captain in after choosing to bowl and having the opposition 4-300!! Test cricket has shown us that a game can ebb and flow during a session and a day so its not over yet. Expect the bowlers to learn from their mistakes today and make the most of any moisture in the pitch early. If they dont, Aus could be set for 400+ and the number 1 team in the world could be facing the best pace attack in the world on a wearing pitch.

  • on February 12, 2014, 18:21 GMT

    Yes stats can tell you some things but they are devoid of few qualitative aspects. And cricket does tends to be ruled by certain qualitative aspects, though quantitative assesments can go in long way improving the game.The pitch looks slow and two paced.It was bright and hot .why on earth would anyone want to bowl on that.And on top of it, Steyn was having a gastro. And this information was all a priori available to Smith.It looks to be muddled decision from an incredulously defensive captain.Though bowlers have to share blame too.Far too long during the day bowlers were flat, and when the scenario needed a six over Philander spell, skipper tosses to Peterson,who I am afraid is tosh.the blame lies with SA management too.The dour captaincy of Smith was enabled by Paul Harris, who blocked an end up always and you treated him like shit for fancy new toy called tahir,who cannot even land a ball.The pitch is slow and difficult for stroke making and would not get easier.

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  • on February 12, 2014, 18:21 GMT

    Yes stats can tell you some things but they are devoid of few qualitative aspects. And cricket does tends to be ruled by certain qualitative aspects, though quantitative assesments can go in long way improving the game.The pitch looks slow and two paced.It was bright and hot .why on earth would anyone want to bowl on that.And on top of it, Steyn was having a gastro. And this information was all a priori available to Smith.It looks to be muddled decision from an incredulously defensive captain.Though bowlers have to share blame too.Far too long during the day bowlers were flat, and when the scenario needed a six over Philander spell, skipper tosses to Peterson,who I am afraid is tosh.the blame lies with SA management too.The dour captaincy of Smith was enabled by Paul Harris, who blocked an end up always and you treated him like shit for fancy new toy called tahir,who cannot even land a ball.The pitch is slow and difficult for stroke making and would not get easier.

  • Number_5 on February 12, 2014, 19:01 GMT

    I guess you have to back your captain in after choosing to bowl and having the opposition 4-300!! Test cricket has shown us that a game can ebb and flow during a session and a day so its not over yet. Expect the bowlers to learn from their mistakes today and make the most of any moisture in the pitch early. If they dont, Aus could be set for 400+ and the number 1 team in the world could be facing the best pace attack in the world on a wearing pitch.

  • Kirstenfan on February 12, 2014, 21:47 GMT

    Really pathetic selection by SA, but not a surprise. Peterson had better get runs, because he is not anywhere close to test class with the ball. Amazed smith chose to bowl, it's defensive and to do so based on stats is amazing.

  • dunger.bob on February 12, 2014, 22:17 GMT

    It's always dodgy to send a team in. I've no idea what the overall stats are but it only seems to work half the time at best. The rest of the time you're just handing the advantage over to the opposition.

  • VillageGreen on February 12, 2014, 23:44 GMT

    SA are No1 because they respond to the challenge when the opposition get in front. Will be fascinating, though SA have given the Aussies encouragement that will now need pacifying…the Aussies know they gave 3 wickets away from undisplined batting and have a record for getting it right in the 2nd innings.

  • Alexk400 on February 13, 2014, 0:36 GMT

    I think SA might lose this test.

  • Cricket_Froth on February 13, 2014, 1:40 GMT

    At 4/90odd Australia looked to be heading for another batting failure and sub-par1st inns total. Finally some spine was displayed in the batting before we got down to number 7. The Marsh-Smith partnership is a fine knock against a top class bowling attack and capable captain. Steve Smith is proving he has the temperament to craft long innings in tough circumstances. Australia should be looking to push 400+. Nathan Lyon could be a real X factor on this pitch, despite all the hype foccussing on the "pace battle" theme. Cricket Froth.

  • Thegimp on February 13, 2014, 1:40 GMT

    Caution rather than courage will be the historical legacy of Smith's captaincy. Just like not chasing the win against India recently he has let his team and supporters down. Not one supporter would have thought less of him had they attempted to win against India and lost and not one would have been worried had he batted yesterday and got rolled for 220. It's the statement that a leader makes that makes the leader.

  • Ozcricketwriter on February 13, 2014, 2:08 GMT

    They went in with 5 specialist bowlers. 5! In a test match! When Quinton de Kock was available! Going in with 5 specialist bowlers you would think that you want to bat first. But I don't think that the toss was the mistake. Going in with 5 specialist bowlers was the problem, especially when 2 of them - Philander and Petersen - were hopeless.

  • Akhter786 on February 13, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    In all honesty SA bowlers do not know what to do with once the ball gets older and softer. Same happened against Pakistan New Zealand and India though the damage done with new balls happened to be too much to come over for those oppositions in those games. But here it is Aussie line up and they seem to have started living with it that their top order will seldom fire and late middle order is making it all difficult fot oppositions. Even Steyn Vernon and Morkel look clueless with the old ball. They donot know anything about reverse swing. Inkblot on the best bowling attack. It is high time they hire a bowling coach, may be Waqar or Akram.