Australia in South Africa 2013-14

Doolan regrets missing ton on debut

Daniel Brettig

February 17, 2014

Comments: 30 | Text size: A | A

Alex Doolan played some attractive shots but fell on the pull, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day, February 12, 2014
Alex Doolan: "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." © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of South Africa

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."


David Warner and Alex Doolan put on a 205-run stand, South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion Park, 3rd day, February 14, 2014
Alex Doolan said he used the pressure of expectations © Getty Images
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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 here

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Posted by   on (February 18, 2014, 20:10 GMT)

runout49 - add Ed Cowan to that list of Taswegian short-leg fieldsmen.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 18, 2014, 16:58 GMT)

@C.Gull Funny thing is turning your head/back is the best way to get yourself seriously injured fielding there. You expose your neck and the back of your head, plus you're usually off balance so you could also get hit in the chest and other vital points, and the bit you're actually trying to save when your turn your head is already the most protected part, your face. They use a different helmet with a larger grill when fielding there that protects down to the neck. The best way to cover up if you get it smashed at you is what George Bailey does, Tuck into a ball shape with your arms over your chest for protection and tuck your chin in but still face the ball. You might get hit, but you aren't going to die. Sometimes the ball might even get lodged on your somewhere.

Posted by runout49 on (February 18, 2014, 6:34 GMT)

Boon , Bailey and now Doolan. The captains like putting the Tassie guys at short leg !

Posted by C.Gull on (February 17, 2014, 23:09 GMT)

@smudgeon, seems to me they generally put the new guy at short leg, like a rite of passage, though there are some like Boonie or Langer who seem to specialise.

I've often thought more catches could be taken there if the fielder didn't turn his back (defensively, understandably) when the batsman went for it - good to see Doolan is looking for the chance!

Posted by ShutTheGate on (February 17, 2014, 22:05 GMT)

@ disco bob,

yes I'm getting that feeling as well.

The positive thing for the Aussies is that when our 30 plus aged players we've got the likes of pattinson, cummings, bird, starc, Hughes, Khawaja, maddinson, whiteman, muirhead coming through.

Let's just hope that Ryno, MJ, Clarke, Haddin don't all retire at once.

Posted by rickyvoncanterbury on (February 17, 2014, 21:58 GMT)

Yes... I was one who did not want him in the side, but what do I know, after the first test against SA with his hand eye and reflexes, now I say... Maybe he could even keep Johnson out (for a spell or 2).

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (February 17, 2014, 21:52 GMT)

@disco_bob I'm really happy for Clarkey, he suffered through the worst Australian team in ages and about a million different player experiments but finally his perseverance in holding things together more or less single handedly is coming to fruition. Looks like he'll be able to enjoy his last few years as captain of Australia, he's a great tactical captain so now that he has a good team behind him I expect great things. Winning matches without Clarke scoring half the runs? That was a pipe dream not long ago. It's also really nice for him to finally get his dues in terms of how good a captain he really is after so many people were calling for him to be replaced. Our team sucked and he put in a super human effort in the field and with the bat to even keep us in the game, what more could he really have done.

Posted by Biggus on (February 17, 2014, 21:07 GMT)

Good composure and the patience to persevere when things are tough were good signs to see at number 3. Been missing for a while.

Posted by disco_bob on (February 17, 2014, 20:38 GMT)

Don't you get the feeling that without realising it something very magical has snuck up on us. After all TheGreats© retired there has been this painful 5 year period, with the disintegrating fibres held together by Clarke. Now finally out of the ashes the Phoenix of Australian cricket has arisen, in the form of MJ, and now it's like all the little gestating eggs have cast off their shells. Smith, Marsh, Doolan, Lyon just getting better and better. I think over the next couple of years we'll have a team to dominate for another Decade.

Posted by popcorn on (February 17, 2014, 19:35 GMT)

I am very happy for Alex Doolan. I met him at the nets st thr SCG, before the 5th Ashes Test, anf took his Autograph in my book and on a bat.He had a shy pleasing smile, and while he was dignisigng, I spoke to him sbout his Role Model, Ricky Ponting, and told him that Ricky thinks highly of him.His eyes and smile lit up!

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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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