South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 2nd day February 21, 2014

Top order tests Lehmann's patience


Australia's coach Darren Lehmann narrowed his focus on the touring side's top order after a poor start to another first innings at St George's Park allowed South Africa to roar back into a series that had looked beyond their grasp following a hiding in the first Test in Centurion.

On a far more docile pitch than the one on which Mitchell Johnson made merry, South Africa's batsmen set themselves the task of keeping Australia in the field for five sessions, and were rewarded by a start of some inattention from the touring batsmen, despite the friendliness of the surface. Lehmann was frank in his disappointment about a 25-over passage that followed the script of too many first innings during his tenure, leaving the hosts very much on top.

"We'd love more first-innings runs, I've spoken to everyone in the [press] room about that at various stages. That's what we need to do to get better as a cricket side," Lehmann said. "That's probably the issue we've had in Test matches and got out of trouble with someone like Brad Haddin in a couple and obviously Shaun Marsh and Steven Smith in the last Test match. We've got to get better from our top order, we know that.

"It could have been worse if they took a couple of chances. They bowled very well, give them some credit there. I think the wicket is still very good and we probably helped with a couple of dismissals. We've got to be better in those tough situations. I know it was a long day in the field with 150-odd overs. We've got to be better at restricting the wicket column.

"I'm pleased we got 112 runs, and certainly the game is going forward when we're batting, but disappointed with the wicket loss. We've got to bat really well tomorrow and keep them out in the field for most of the day. It's a good opportunity, it's a good wicket, so someone's got to stand up and make some runs."

While happy with the efforts of the bowlers to keep South Africa's scoring rate below three per over throughout, Lehmann acknowledged the importance of a genuine fifth bowling option to his plans for such pitches, and indicated strongly that Shane Watson would be brought back in time for the Cape Town Test. It is not yet clear at whose expense that may be, but slim scores for Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan and Shaun Marsh gave Lehmann room for change.

"We love five bowlers as we've always said," Lehmann said. "The hardest thing is fitting that in after a great Test win and he hadn't bowled before this Test match. We've just got to see that he's getting along. He bowled today, so hopefully he's fit and firing, and ready to go. Hopefully we don't have to bowl 150 overs in Cape Town and I'm pretty sure the wicket won't have as less bounce as this one."

Despite the parlous position of his team, Lehmann pointed out they had plenty of experience in similar circumstances recently due to the top order's shortcomings, and expected the likes of David Warner, Smith and Haddin to conjure another rescue on day three.

"From our point of view we've been in this situation too often, so we know what we need to do tomorrow," Lehmann said. "The morning's going to be a very big session for us, as it is for South Africa. They're ahead of the game now and we've just got to get back into it."

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

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  • dummy4fb on February 22, 2014, 18:19 GMT

    Hindsight is 20/20 but a fair few predictable things happening here. On bouncy wickets we're dominant, especially with Mitch bowling at 150. On flatter tracks we need our batsmen to do their jobs.

    Chris Rogers is just finding himself, he should have been in the side five years ago, instead he's only now found that he can score centuries in test cricket, now he has to get them when it really matters, in deciding matches and in first innings. He's had his opportunity here and failed miserably three times. He's got another chance to help Australia save this match, he has to stand up, especially with Shane Watson and Phil Hughes in the touring squad, and Marcus North practically demanding selection with his incredible form for WA.

    Doolan and Marsh should be expected to do what they do, average 30's, occasionally get runs, nobody's saying they're not capable.

    Warner is great when we're coming in the second dig 150 runs ahead, good half ton here, but is he really the opener we need?

  • Beertjie on February 22, 2014, 11:23 GMT

    @Barnesy4444 on (February 22, 2014, 9:52 GMT), good to know you have this capacity to foretell the future. Those bagging Hughes do so on the basis of what he's currently achieved in test (26 tests av.: 32.6) in comparison with Hick (65 tests av.: 31.3). Many made big scores initially only to be regarded as flashes-in-pans. How many games did those players have before they were rewarded with consistent selections? Many like Punter soon came good. I'll have to look up the stats of Haydos. Sure Waugh took his time to improve but this is not a fair counter-example given that he also had fine bowling skills to off-set his initially disappointing batting average.

  • dummy4fb on February 22, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    Rogers isnt the right option. He will never win Australia a match. The sooner they get rid of him the better it will be

  • Barnesy4444 on February 22, 2014, 9:52 GMT

    Beertijie, people keep mentioning Graham Hick when talking about Phil Hughes. Hick never had an impact in test cricket, Hughes already has. Totally dominating in his first series against the best fast bowlers in the world.

    There are numerous Australian players who were given chances, M. Johnson, S. Waugh, Hayden, Langer, Martyn. even Ponting and Clarke. Should we have thrown them all in the dustbin too?

    Hughes will be back and sooner than people think. He will be hungry and will score heavily.

  • Winsome on February 22, 2014, 9:39 GMT

    Marsh is doing what Marsh does. I don't know whether he relaxes too much after getting a decent score or panics, but what you will get from him is what WA fans have seen his whole career, he's not going to suddenly change. @TimNewman - what is the obsession with Maddinson? He hits the ball in the air ALL the time. He's going to have good fields set for him in test cricket and he'll whack the ball straight to them.

  • BradmanBestEver on February 22, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    Tim Newman - agree with you - I to have had doubts about Marsh at test level since he came into the team. Marsh is in the Marcus North category - too inconsistent

    I think the selectors would do better to choose younger players who they mould - like Maddinson, Lynn, Silk

  • android_user on February 22, 2014, 7:51 GMT

    I've been saying it for ages . rogers and marsh are not test quality. doolan is still on trial. Watson and Madison are the 2 required and Hughes for another chance. then we have Bailey finch and white. should give Bailey another go. his form was red hot lately. the only batsmen Australia have are haddin warner smith and clarke. the rest are not established or not good enough. that's the difference between the sides. SA have the superior batting lineup.

  • Barnesy4444 on February 22, 2014, 6:35 GMT

    Just watched Doolan and Marsh's dismissals. They were both just straight balls. Doolan stepped back to off rather than getting behind it, and Marsh followed a wide one second ball.

    Both pretty soft for test numbers 3 and 4 if you ask me.

  • Barnesy4444 on February 22, 2014, 6:26 GMT

    There is a top order batsman who's been averaging over 60 for the last twelve months scoring century after century and is sitting on his hands getting itchy feet. Phil Hughes.

    1 Warner, 2 Hughes, 3 Rogers/Doolan, 4 Clarke, 5 Smith, 6 Watson.

  • Beertjie on February 22, 2014, 6:07 GMT

    Hughes apologist like you, @Farnz Cordeaux, should merely consult his test record to see that using ONLY first class performance is not always a good yardstick. Supporting example: Graeme Hick. You only get so many chances before you are consigned to the dustbin. I hope he makes it finally but I'm not holding my breath.

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