South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 3rd day

Doolan ice extinguishes South Africa fire

Against a revved-up Dale Steyn, on a lively pitch, after the loss of an early wicket, Alex Doolan turned a nervous period into seemingly inevitable domination and vindicated his selection

Daniel Brettig in Centurion

February 14, 2014

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A
#politeenquiries: Perhaps South Africa should pick 11 fielders

When the story of this day at Centurion is told in future years, it will be summarised in terms of sustained dominance by Australia and slovenly fielding by South Africa. On the scorecard it will look as though the tourists came out to bat with a 191-run lead and marched to a decisive advantage against dispirited bowling and shoddy out-cricket, from opponents humbled by Mitchell Johnson. It will look inevitable.

Yet for 25 minutes before lunch there was very little guaranteed about Australia's progress. The loss of Chris Rogers to Dale Steyn's first ball, dragging awkwardly onto the stumps, caused an explosion of emotion from the bowler and the crowd. Here were the world's best team, wounded in the first innings but willing themselves to fight back. Here was an ambitious touring side with plenty of players able to recall the chaos of Cape Town in 2011, when a vast lead of 188 became an inadequate target of 236 quicker than you could say 47 all out.

Genuine nerves were glimpsed in these moments, the kind of interlude on which a match can turn. Australia's vice-captain and Cape Town veteran Brad Haddin aspired to mastery of the "big moments" before the series began, and one such juncture had arrived. David Warner, for all his aggressive intent and broad array of shots, looked tense and unsure in this knowledge. Unable to score many runs before the interval, almost all he could do was get out and, through inside edges or wafts outside off stump, he nearly did.

The man to calm Australia's nerves and make an afternoon's domination possible could not be Rogers and it would not be Warner. Instead, it was a 28-year-old debutant with an elegant, upright style and a first-class record hinting at promise, but nothing more - Alex Doolan. His moment of import arrived after a long period of grooming for this very role, confronting a fiery paceman on a lively pitch after the loss of an early wicket.

Australia's selectors have had their eye on Doolan for quite some time, and so too had others at important points in the domestic system. Chief among those, of course, was Ricky Ponting, who had in Doolan's earliest days been the one to tip him out of Tasmania's Sheffield Shield XI whenever he returned from national duty. Taken by his talent but irritated by his tendency for pretty 20s and 30s, Ponting worked closely with Doolan in 2012-13, adding considerable steel to the silk he had always possessed.

During that summer, Doolan had enjoyed a fruitful first encounter with the South Africans, caressing his way to 161 not out for Australia A at the SCG. The pitch was dead and the bowling preparatory, but Doolan's ease was apparent. After he made further runs for Tasmania at the MCG against Victoria, partnering Ponting in a stand where the pupil lost little by comparison to the teacher, it seemed a Test call-up could not be far away.

But circumstances and schedules created difficulties for Doolan, who went from the Tasmanian top three to the fringes of the Melbourne Renegades squad in the Big Bash League. Rob Quiney and Phillip Hughes were preferred in the home Tests. By the time Doolan returned to the Shield, the earlier form had dissipated, and his scores did not stand out during the winter A tours of the UK and southern Africa.

Warner praise for 'fantastic' Doolan

  • David Warner was grateful for Alex Doolan's composure in the early stages of Australia's second innings, the foundation for a stand of 205 that pushed South Africa out of the first Test at Centurion and left the tourists pondering a declaration on day four.
  • "It's always good to have someone at the other end who plays a defensive role, and then when the ball is in his court he can tick over the runs," Warner said. "The way he's played on debut is fantastic, we know as Australians who've played against him in domestic cricket he always had it in him. It's good to see him get out and score some runs. He'll be disappointed with the way he got out but we're looking good for the future there."
  • Warner also said his own aggressive approach had been backed even if he occasionally gets out to a hasty stroke, as he and Brad Haddin did in the first innings.
  • "We've been told to play with cojones," he said. "We call Brad 'psycho'. You saw it against England. He played fantastic [while being aggressive]. That's the way he plays. When he is on you've seen the number of runs that he's scored. We've got to play with freedom, play the way that we play - with intent."

Nonetheless, Doolan remained in the thoughts of the national selector, John Inverarity, the coach, Darren Lehmann, and other senior figures within the team. A sublime century to take Tasmania to a fourth-innings target against New South Wales early in the summer had the added benefit of occurring under the nose of Michael Clarke, who could not help but be impressed. Throughout the Ashes he was next in line to join the top six.

He turned heads in vignettes, whether it be cracking Stuart Broad through cover off the back foot for Australia A at Bellerive, or driving Peter Siddle's outswinger with aristocratic nonchalance in practice at the Wanderers. All he lacked was a substantial score. Doolan's fluent method can recall that of the former England captain Michael Vaughan at times, most particularly in the flourish of his swivel-pull. Another similarity can be found in the modest first-class record Vaughan carried into Test cricket, where he improved significantly upon it.

In South Africa, Doolan was soon aware of his likely place in the team. He batted at No. 3 in the nets and in centre-wicket sessions, and had his family on hand for the moment when Andrew Symonds handed him the baggy green cap. On day one he offered another vignette - moving smoothly along to 27 before picking out midwicket. More was required, and when Rogers perished Doolan's moment presented itself.

In as far as it is possible to do so in five balls, the way Doolan countered the rest of Steyn's opening over vindicated his identification and selection. An organised technique, given starch by the movement he has often had to counter at Bellerive, brought an instant sense of calm - ice to scotch South African fire. There was no hair-raising gallop down the other end for a single, no flashy shot scorched through the field in a blur of nervous energy. Instead, Doolan offered either a raised bat or sound defence, absorbing the ball at its newest and hardest on a surface not averse to playing tricks.

Alex Doolan again played a steady hand at No. 3, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion Park, 3rd day, February 14, 2014
Alex Doolan calmed Australia in a hectic period before lunch, going on to make 89 © AFP

Steyn, sensing an opponent comfortable against his away swing, clicked up a gear or two and hurled down his skiddy short ball, an older relative of the missile that ruined Craig Cumming. Doolan took it on the body. If it hurt, he did not show it. If it scrambled his thoughts, he soon regathered them. To follow up, Steyn pitched fuller, seeking the pads or the stumps, but was met by a deft leg-side deflection that took Doolan off the mark. By lunch he had faced 21 balls, and scored 3. As importantly, he radiated assurance, all clean lines and unhurried judgments. His fellow batsmen exhaled.

A corner in the match had been turned, and the afternoon played out in a way that will now look straightforward. Warner pounced, South Africa sagged, and Doolan progressed beyond a cameo to the outskirts of a century. Though Graeme Smith twice resorted unsuccessfully to the DRS, Doolan did not offer a single chance. All 12 of his boundaries, and one smooth six down the ground, were struck with the same rhythmic blade he had used to disarm Steyn.

His exit for 89, a tired attempt to cut JP Duminy, brought an anguished reaction. For the first time all day Doolan had lost some of his cool. In the calm of the dressing room he was irritated not to raise three figures, the third Australian after Bill Ponsford and Shaun Marsh to do so on debut at No. 3. Later on, with the help of grateful team-mates, he will come to appreciate the significance of this innings. Australia's domination of day three will in years to come look like it was inevitable. But that is only because Doolan's calm had made it so.

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

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Posted by xtrafalgarx on (February 16, 2014, 9:10 GMT)

@ScottStevo: Did you watch the innings? In his first innings he was free scoring, this time the bowlers were on top and he had to ride it out and he did it beauttifully, that's what you want from your no.3

Make no mistake, he can put the foot on the pedal when required, did you not see him come down the track and smash RP over his head for a huge six and multiple fours? Then when pitched up he played a beautiful cover drive, there is no real glaring weakness and you have to remember that this is his FIRST GAME! He would have been nervous and can get better.

Posted by terrythai on (February 16, 2014, 5:30 GMT)

ScottStevo, unfair to suggest that Doolan would not have taken over the role of strokemaker if Warner had been dismissed instead of Rogers, because he most certainly would have. As Mervo intimated Doolan is an intelligant batsman who has been groomed by the best in Ponting to take over at 3. Anyone, when batting with Warner has to take the backseat and provide stability, can't have both batsmen taking unnecessary risks at that stage of an innings, and that is how Warner does/should continue to play. Doolan is a very accomplished strokemaker as will be proven later on in his Test career. And I will be very surprised if Watson is brought in for the next game, as Rogers deserves a little of that faith and loyalty you spoke about before. Watson has had more than his fair shre of that.

Posted by Tony42 on (February 16, 2014, 3:20 GMT)

Agree totally with popcorn. Leave 3,4,5 and 6 as with Doolan, Marsh, Clarke and Smith because this is where each of these players they should bat. Doolan and Marsh have earned their chance to establish themselves. Then pick either Rogers or Watson at No. 1. Watson is not suited to No. 6 as he is not nimble enough on his feet. Watson's batting is well past his best anyway. Dropping Doolan would be a crime and a backward step.

Eventually, perhaps the next Oz summer I would like to see Jordan Silk as opener. He would be the ideal partner for Warner. We should then allow an all-rounder to develop at No.6 over the next 2 years in Shield cricket. When either Faulkner or perhaps Mitchell Marsh develops in Shield cricket, then select them at No. 6. Also keep your eyes on Joe Burns of Qld as perhaps the best young batsmen in Sheffield Shield.

Posted by ScottStevo on (February 15, 2014, 11:45 GMT)

@andrew-schulz, completely agree. If it had been Warner who departed and it was Rogers and Doolan batting together, we'd still be batting now, and around 100 runs less on the board! Watson's bowling is already being missed too. Although, Warner's seam up was pretty tidy! I have to admit, when I saw him warming up to bowl I had a good chuckle! Watson WILL play in the next test, I have no doubt of that. I kind of like @ModernUmpiresPlz's team with Marsh opening, Doolan at 3 and Watson to 6 too. Not a bad shout.

Posted by ScottStevo on (February 15, 2014, 11:41 GMT)

@ashmaugham, it's not ageism (and in sport, who cares if it is), it's reality. Rogers was always a stop gap measure when he was selected. He's done well for us, but I'll be surprised if he's retained after this series. Hughes obviously can play test cricket as his twin tons in SA would suggest. He just needed to be shown a little faith and loyalty. Instead, we brushed a youngster aside and hammered his confidence. I have no doubt that Hughes will play for Aus and score runs.

Posted by andrew-schulz on (February 15, 2014, 9:59 GMT)

Geez Dan and popcorn, high praise on the basis of one innings. I thought Warner, not Doolan, took the game away from South Africa. Doolan had no fluency, wasted a lot of poor deliveries ( one scoring shot in his first 30 balls, wasn't it), and played some dismal wafts in that time. But a good knock in the end. And popcorn, the fact that there will be less help for seamers in the next two Tests is more reason to include Watson, not less. No one seems to see the massive role he played in the bowling attack on good decks in the Ashes.

Posted by ashmaugham on (February 15, 2014, 7:58 GMT)

Sorry, I just don't understand the suggestion that Phil Hughes should replace Chris Rogers. Phil does not have the technique for Test cricket. He has been in and out of the Aus Team - give Chris a few more chances. "Not suited for the long term" smacks of ageism.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 15, 2014, 7:08 GMT)

@plymuth12 The thing is I really don't like the idea of Hughes and Warner together. They both like to play square of the wicket and that's dangerous against a new ball. Seems like a recipe for a lot of 2/not many's in the first innings. I'm obviously unsure what the selectors are thinking for when Rogers retires or is dropped, but I still imagine they would go with another grafter rather than a dasher.

Posted by plymuth12 on (February 15, 2014, 6:31 GMT)

finally australia have found an ideal squad though by the end of the series i reckon well see some changes. first of all rogers whose not suited for long term responsibilities will be replaced by hughes. 2nd marsh in all experience is probably gonna lose form and be replaced by joe burns,cooper or jordan silk. watson is too overared at the test level.his statss show hisv tendency to score big in the 2nd innnings when setting targets at minimal pressure

Posted by one-eyed-but-keepinitreal on (February 15, 2014, 6:10 GMT)

Australia need a fourth seamer if they want to manage Harris and allow MJ to be the short spell beast that they want him to be. Should SA try to set up wickets that may suit Philander then Watson or Henriques are the type of bowler that will also do well. Who says Marsh or Doolan would have to go to make way for Watson. Rogers, even during the ashes, has looked abominable against the short ball (bouncy wickets). Watson would do no worse than him and add fielding and bowling skill. Replacing Rogers would rule out Henriques.

Posted by Beertjie on (February 15, 2014, 5:57 GMT)

Agree with all the posters who want Watson out permanently and Doolan in BUT what happens if Rhino breaks down? If you had a quartet of reliables (fitnesswise) such as McGrath, Lee, Gillespie/Clark, and Warne you could do this, but until then better be safe than sorry. Btw Watson won't be playing in the next test, according to a very reliable source. Can't agree @popcorn on (February 15, 2014, 5:03 GMT) Watson will definitely sit out the next test, but should come in for CT. While this is not the seamer wicket people think, relying on Clarke, Smith as the fifth bowler will likely have similar results to SAF having to rely on Peterson. It will relieve all the pressure by leaking runs. Far better as someone has suggested to drop Rogers. Some serious selection posers about our new burgeoning top 6, but I'd hold fire about how good they are until after the tour to the UAE in October/Nov.

Posted by Mervo on (February 15, 2014, 5:40 GMT)

It was such a pleasure to watch a good technique by an intelligent batsman. So different from Hughes, who has the talent but not the acumen or the technique to go with it.

Posted by popcorn on (February 15, 2014, 5:03 GMT)

Shane Watson should sit out the next two Tests.It is UNFAIR to EITHER Shaun Marsh OR Alex Doolan to make them sit out for Shane Watson. Watson is no great shakes with the bat, and hardly bowls. Both Port Elizabeth AND Cape Town are not seamer wickets like Centurion, so our 3 seamers 1 spinner combo of Johnson,Siddle,Harris and Lyon is enough. At last we have founfd the RIGHT Number 3, Alex Doolan. It is interesting that Tassie has produced the 3 best Number 3s - David Boon, Ricky Ponting and Alex Doolan. Shaun Marsh at Number 4,at which spot he has played beautifully in both innings,relieves Michael Clarke of the pressure of moving up the order to Number 3 or 4. Clarke,like Steve waugh,also Captain plays his best at Number 5. With Steve Smith at Number 6 and Brad Haddin at Number 7, we now have the BEST Engine Room in the World (the Top 3 Batsmen) and the BEST Top 7 batsmen in the World. Go, Aussies,go!The Number One Test Ranking is within reach.Cheers!

Posted by Chris_P on (February 15, 2014, 4:57 GMT)

@Meety. Totally agree. I know I am from NSW, but if you score runs against SOK, Bollinger, Copeland, Abbot & Sandhu (when test players are away) then you have got the "X" factor required for higher honours. Doolan did it earlier in the season so I was very much backing him to succeed.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 15, 2014, 4:21 GMT)

@Jethro16 I was wondering about this as well, the weakest link on these quicker pitches unfortunately seems to be Rogers even though I am a fan of his. Didn't Marsh used to open the batting at some point? He looked pretty solid against the new ball after coming in pretty early on in the first innings, Maybe Watto at 6, Doolan at 3 and Marsh opening as the new foil for Warner? I don't know but Watto getting injured seems to have really helped Australia here. We went from having not enough batsmen to fill a test team (I am so happy the George Bailey experiment has ended) to trying to figure out which decent one we want to drop.

Posted by Hammer-time on (February 15, 2014, 3:37 GMT)

A lot of comments about Watson coming back into side. Watson will come back in as Australia will want him to bowl 15-20 overs an innings to give the other paceman a breather. I think the player to go might be Rogers and have Watson back opening with Warner. Doolan and Marsh deserve to play the series out and try to consolidate their spots. Rogers like Bailey before him did the job against England but that is now past . Doolan and Marsh have got 4-5 years ahead of them Rogers has 12 months at best, Australia even after only 2 innings look more solid for having Doolans patience and calmness at 3.

Posted by Meety on (February 15, 2014, 2:17 GMT)

@Chris_P on (February 14, 2014, 18:51 GMT) - the Bash has also disrupted batsmen like Burns too. I think one thing we have to consider when looking at batsmen stats in the Shield is the quality of the pace attacks (& spinners) on display. Every Shield attack is good enuff to hold its on in the Test scene, or possibly dominant!

Posted by sasmit_cricket on (February 15, 2014, 1:45 GMT)

Top performer. IMO, if Hughes comes in for Rogers and rest the batting card is left the same, Aus would have decent line up. Nothing against Rogers of-course, but he would be retiring sometime soon. I would still be tempted to put Watto in Playing 11, he is ok with the bat and quality with the ball. If one of those trio is to break down, i could see steve or clarke bowling who would not be as good as Watto. So, now the problem would be whom to replace Watto with? Tough selection choices for second test. Ideas anyone?

Posted by lesamourai on (February 15, 2014, 1:41 GMT)

Aus have a selection issue ahead of the next test if Watto really is fit. As a naysayer of Doolan and Marsh before the test (and a fan of Hughes) I've been really impressed with the class and application of both. They look and have performed like top order batsmen. For all Watto's style, he has never produced the consistency to justify hanging onto a top order spot. In a test in which all the pace bowlers, bar MJ, have struggled for penetration, however, Watto's stump to stump bowling and knack for winkling out a wicket have been missed. Apart from a bit of LB from Smith or SLA from Clarke, Aus lack other bowling options. So Watto probably deserves a bat at 6 and to bowl a few overs. Marsh seems to have won the bat-off for the other spot, so Doolan will probably have to make way next test. Hard to see how/when he will get back in (except of course next time Watto gets injured). Hughes will probably have to wait until Rogers retires/is dropped for his next chance.

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (February 15, 2014, 1:15 GMT)

To me, Australia have found a no.3 in Doolan. He doesn't exude nervous energy like Khawaja and Hughes do, despite their better records. He looks calm, composed and mentally tough to be able to make this position his own.

Michael Vaughan is a good comparison. Interestingly enough, he too had a modest average (FC average of 35 odd) and infact he was picked averaging high twenties but went on to be a good test batsman. That's what we need at no.3

Posted by disco_bob on (February 15, 2014, 0:29 GMT)

You have to acknowledge that at the first opportunity Doolan has laid claim to no. 3 in a way that Khawaja was unable to do and he did it with the ever possible threat after Rogers dismissal that he could be the catalyse for a familiar batting collapse, a role often performed by Watson.

Posted by handyandy on (February 14, 2014, 23:43 GMT)

He looked extremely comfortable against one of the best pace attacks in the world. To my mind he is a better prospect than Watson in that position.

Posted by   on (February 14, 2014, 20:27 GMT)

Definitely one to keep at number three. The evidence against Watson in that position is overwhelming.

Posted by Sanj747 on (February 14, 2014, 20:17 GMT)

Looks very good from first impressions. The ability to leave many balls and score off the loose ones is a trait Aus need from their number 3. Couldn't agree more with the comparison to Michael Vaughan. Hope he stays in for the next test.

Posted by Roshan_P on (February 14, 2014, 19:49 GMT)

Doolan seems to be a much better prospect for No. 3 than Watto. If you had Watto in this position would he have been able to stick it out and calm nerves like Doolan did? That is exactly what a Test match quality first-drop does and I can't help thinking that Watto would not have had it in him to do this. I think Doolan should come in permanently for Watson, and hopefully Hughes makes his return as he was always , and still is, a really promising player.

Posted by ScottStevo on (February 14, 2014, 19:38 GMT)

A really composed innings from Doolan today. He played the short ball well by evading them - mostly - and was very solid off the back foot. I'd like to see him get further forward at times or else he could fall into the Root-like style of play and get found wanting in the same way. Otherwise, he looks exceptionally tidy, calm and assured. I've not seen a lot of his FC innings, and was very dubious of him at 3. However, in both innings coming to the crease very early, he's built a partnership to steady the innings. That's one aspect of being a good #3. The other is being able to play strokes and counter top line bowlers with relatively new pills in their hand. Can anyone inform me if Doolan is capable of that sort of innings, or are they mainly like the 2 he's played here? Nevertheless, those who watched today's play will know that Doolan played a top shelf innings to put Aus into a commanding position from a precarious one. Made us proud!

Posted by Chris_P on (February 14, 2014, 18:51 GMT)

This guy, going into last season's BBL, was the leading batsman in FC in Australia, then the 7 week lay-pff really knocked any momentum he had. If you ever see him bat, live, then you'd appreciate just how much time he has to play shots. His FC record isn't too flash, but his recent form of the past few years have been improving, that is what counts. He has always looked the goods.

Posted by sixandout on (February 14, 2014, 18:50 GMT)

Well done, Alex. Let's hope it is the first of many great innings, as Australia really need someone to make No.3 their own.

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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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