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February 17, 2014
A resounding Test victory over South Africa, a compelling innings of 89 at No. 3 and a pair of scarcely believable snaffles at short-leg made for something close to the perfect debut from Alex Doolan.
Nevertheless, one of his chief emotions in the aftermath of Centurion was pain at missing out on a hundred in that second innings, an opportunity never to come again. So assured against the bombs hurled down by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, Doolan fell to the gentle spin of JP Duminy.
"I am not sure I will ever get over that," Doolan said. "You only ever get one chance to make a debut hundred and I blew that opportunity, I think I will probably get more disappointed as time goes on rather than the other way around. The fact that we were in a really good position made it a little bit easier, and the fact that we had batted really well, Davey and myself, to get us into that position on that second day. That was I guess the silver lining to the cloud but I am still pretty gutted about it."
If this sounds like a young man being overly hard on himself, Doolan has good reasons for the unstinting self-assessment. A major reason for his development into a player of the requisite quality to play for Australia has been growing determination that he must raise his own standards, after earning an unwanted early reputation as the author of elegant 30s for Tasmania. A tally of 27 on day one raised that same familiar question.
"I've certainly been a lot tougher on myself," he said. "In the past there has been a perception of me that I do get to 30 and get out. I was aware of that. It was something that bugged me a lot, so I've been a lot harder on myself in making sure that those [perceptions disappear].
"I got 27 in the first innings and got out and I was pretty ropeable. I'm just trying to make sure the job's not done when you get to 20 or 30, then try and push on and make a hundred every time you bat, rather than just getting lucky once or twice."
Doolan has had a long time to think about what Test cricket might be like. From the day he sculpted 161 not out for Australia A against the South Africans at the SCG in 2012, he has been close to selection, and thoughtfully sought out the opinions of several Test men, including Justin Langer, about what to expect. Centurion brought an enormous weight of expectation that Langer had warned him about.
"A big step up," Doolan said. "I remember speaking to Justin Langer before I came away and he said the major difference was expectation from shield cricket to Test cricket. I certainly think that's the case. Yes, the bowling attack was very, very good, it the best I've ever faced, but that expectation of needing to perform and make sure that Australia stayed ahead of the game is certainly very tough.
"I tried to use it as motivation, I don't think you can totally disregard it because it is always going to be there whether you like it or not. I tried to have it feel like the nation was behind me and was striving to do well and put the team into a good position. Having Davey Warner at the other end, who was a very cool calm head, was very helpful."
Doolan's identification as a top-order player of note came, in large part, from the view that he looks unhurried against quality fast bowling. The coach Darren Lehmann has offered comparisons to Mark Waugh and Martin Love in terms of the calm elegance Doolan exudes, but the man himself has no trouble admitting it doesn't always feel as good as it looks, particularly in his early duel with Steyn on day three.
"It wasn't calm from my perspective. The heart was going at 100 miles an hour," he said. "I was very, very pleased to get through that, and to push on and have a really good partnership was Davey was sensational, it's something I'll always remember.
"That whole innings was a confidence booster for me. I can't put my finger on any certain point where I felt comfortable at all. If it wasn't Dale Steyn, then it was Morne Morkel bowling at you or Vernon Philander, these guys are relentless. It's probably the most uncomfortable I've felt in an innings consistently because there was just no let-up.
"I certainly don't feel like I've got a lot of time to play quick bowling. It's pretty simple for me. I try to stay still and watch the ball as hard as possible. The least amount of movement means the least number of things can go wrong. I basically try and stay nice and still, and watch the ball as much as I can."
Doolan's eye was sharp with the bat but also in the field, where he took to a debut posting under the helmet at bat-pad with a level of skill David Boon would have been proud to match. Catches to dismiss Graeme Smith and Duminy were reflex actions, but it must be noted how well Doolan succeeded in giving himself the best chance by keeping still and alert. He also had the closest possible view of the destruction wrought by Mitchell Johnson.
"It can be a little bit frightening and intimidating for me, standing at bat-pad. I'm not sure how the batsmen are feeling, but it really is something else, watching the ball go past at that speed," he said. "I can't hear their breathing or them muttering to themselves, but I can certainly put myself in their shoes and imagine what they'd be thinking. It's probably not pleasant thoughts..."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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