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

Top order tests Lehmann's patience

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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • AllanGavaskar on February 22, 2014, 5:42 GMT

    It's hard to make decisions about dropping players when in certain circumstances they have been the key to longer term success. Such is the case of Rogers, who scored the most runs in the two recent Ashes series overall. His age make his case harder because one wonders whether, as in the case of many older players who have gone before, are his reactions/eyesight etc still good enough for this level? No-one doubts his instincts, life experience, dominant first class record, etc. A difficulty with choosing Watson is that, yes he is a prodigious talent, but he is injury prone to a degree that makes him at times unreliable, and it is hard to develop form with constant interruptions. Questioning Clarke's position, however, is a laughable and ridiculous proposition. By and large, he is an exciting, shrewd, creative and [given the talent exodus that happened in 06/07], an ultimately successful captain. Who else is there for the Australian captaincy?

  • Clyde on February 22, 2014, 5:17 GMT

    The pitch has suited Morkel's height and negated Johnson's sling. It was expected to get faster, not slower, which has happened, and play is now quicker. Australia does not worry about losing, but rather goes for the win. If Australia had played like South Africa, the result would probably have been a draw. As an Australian supporter, I don't mind if we lose. I would worry if we didn't go for the win at any cost.

  • mthw on February 22, 2014, 3:38 GMT

    So @ xtrafalgarx you want 4 of the top 6 dropped? Over reaction much? So who are the 4 better players than Clarke, Rogers, Marsh and Doolan? Maybe you are carried away with one innings I think. I agree with @Farnz . One innings you are a hero, one bad innings you need to get dropped.

  • rajuramki on February 22, 2014, 3:36 GMT

    The resilience of the current Australian team will still help them to finish the innings not too far behind SA. Further, the Australians are scoring at such a fast clip that there will be enough time to get a result in this match .It is time for Warner,Haddin and Johnson to exhibit their ability with the bat . I strongly doubt whether SA will stand against the Australians to post a big second innings total to put any pressure on Australia. Lehman and his men know how to handle this situation and it is not yet time for Australia to press the panic button .

  • xtrafalgarx on February 22, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    @Jono Makim: But Jono, have you seen his record? He is probably averaging around 35 now, just not good enough for a senior player who was picked averaging 50 in FC cricket. We wanted him to do a Hussey, but if he needs to be babied into it, then we might as well do it with a youngster.

  • heathrf1974 on February 22, 2014, 3:24 GMT

    The dismissal by Marsh was disappointing as he should have left the ball. He needs to be more consistent with his levels of concentration.

  • Maroubra_Flyer on February 22, 2014, 0:47 GMT

    Well done South Africa, quality controlled cricket. Australia are still in it with Smith, Haddin & Johnson to come. We are making the same mistakes as the English, two new players (one a debutant) at 3 & 4. Smith should bat at 3 and Clarke 4. We need experience at the top. Watson to come in & open instead of Rogers if he doesn't score this test & Watson is fit. Great to see a contest, up to us Aus to show our mettle. It's been done before!!!!

  • xtrafalgarx on February 22, 2014, 0:25 GMT

    Also, this goes to show just how carried away we got by 1 performance from Shaun Marsh and possibly Doolan, though i think Doolan has a better chance long term than Marsh. It's not going to be an easy straight ride to the top to fixing this top order.

    Clarke as well is a big problem. If he wasn't captain, he would be on the verge of being dropped. Since Adelaide, he hasn't passed 30 in 5 tests, he is a big part of the batting collapses that have happened.

  • xtrafalgarx on February 21, 2014, 23:58 GMT

    Time to cut Rogers loose. He has done his job, but i'm afraid to say he is now holding the team back. He hasn't been as good as we needed him to be at the top of the order and isn't consistent enough. He hasn't gotten runs when they matter, time to move on.

  • on February 21, 2014, 22:01 GMT

    Unfortunately without having fox at home I've been unable to watch but keenly following the media reports on Cricinfo. It is interesting to see how sensationalised an innings can become now. One innings and you're a saviour, or one innings and your neck is on the chopping block. By all accounts Marsh and Doolan batted well in the first test that they need to do this consistently is yet to be seen or proven and this is where their first class records show them up. Now sometimes players really need to be pushed to excel and these two may be in that category. Only time will tell I suppose. But with the media (as a whole not individually) focusing a lot on one performance, how long will a player get? Phil Hughes never seems to get very long yet his record cries out that he will be consistent. Plenty of time left in this test, and the next test and even the series after that. I wonder how different the team will look then

  • on February 21, 2014, 21:37 GMT

    Well Boof, you pick them mate! It really is that simple! Still it will be a good test of character for Marsh and Doolan to see if they can fight back in the second dig. For mine Parnell bowled a couple of very good nuts and when a bloke ain't set it's not easy. Big wrap for Davey though, he just keeps getting better and better. Rogers looks pretty scratchy but then again he looks scratchy even when he makes runs a lot of the time. I'd not be dropping a bloke with his record just yet to squeeze the likes of Marsh in for the 3rd test.

  • Forza_Scuderia on February 21, 2014, 21:20 GMT

    Well, Boof is right. This has and still is a problem. Warner seems to be going really well and while Clarke is looking good at the crease he is finding silly ways of getting out. Rogers, I'm not so sure of and I think it would be best if they bring Watson in his place. He can't do any worse and is a solid bowling option. Doolan and Marsh deserve another crack.

  • on February 21, 2014, 20:56 GMT

    Credit where credit is due. SAF followed up a good batting performance with some good bowling and are well in front at the end of day 2. After a good night's rest following a tough day, Australia need to come out full of resolve and put a high price on their wickets. Smith, Haddin and Johnson have done it before and can do it again,and of course, Warner is still there. Lehmann must be craving some kind of consistency from his top four, but this Test is far from over yet. Rogers' three successive failures doesn't bode well for his continued tenure. Bravo to Lyon for his outstanding bowling effort. Now bring on day three!

  • anton1234 on February 21, 2014, 20:02 GMT

    I did think the Aussies were short in the bowling without Watson. But don't be surprised if Johnson and Harris are very different in the 2nd innings.

  • on February 21, 2014, 19:15 GMT

    Its not just Aus but every team yearns for a proper seam bowling all rounder... We don't see many spinners doing well all over the world so that makes a fast bowling all rounder that much more important... For all his batting capabilities I doubt if Shane Watson can be called a front line bowler... he is too fragile to bowl long spells and hold up one end which is normally the role of an extra seamer nor does he have to raw pace to have an impact in short bursts.... i guess Aus will do much better with a guy like Faulkner who can bat well and can send in more overs at a lively pace... In that context Parnell is a great prospect for SA and hope they mould him to fit into the no.7 spot...

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  • on February 21, 2014, 19:15 GMT

    Its not just Aus but every team yearns for a proper seam bowling all rounder... We don't see many spinners doing well all over the world so that makes a fast bowling all rounder that much more important... For all his batting capabilities I doubt if Shane Watson can be called a front line bowler... he is too fragile to bowl long spells and hold up one end which is normally the role of an extra seamer nor does he have to raw pace to have an impact in short bursts.... i guess Aus will do much better with a guy like Faulkner who can bat well and can send in more overs at a lively pace... In that context Parnell is a great prospect for SA and hope they mould him to fit into the no.7 spot...

  • anton1234 on February 21, 2014, 20:02 GMT

    I did think the Aussies were short in the bowling without Watson. But don't be surprised if Johnson and Harris are very different in the 2nd innings.

  • on February 21, 2014, 20:56 GMT

    Credit where credit is due. SAF followed up a good batting performance with some good bowling and are well in front at the end of day 2. After a good night's rest following a tough day, Australia need to come out full of resolve and put a high price on their wickets. Smith, Haddin and Johnson have done it before and can do it again,and of course, Warner is still there. Lehmann must be craving some kind of consistency from his top four, but this Test is far from over yet. Rogers' three successive failures doesn't bode well for his continued tenure. Bravo to Lyon for his outstanding bowling effort. Now bring on day three!

  • Forza_Scuderia on February 21, 2014, 21:20 GMT

    Well, Boof is right. This has and still is a problem. Warner seems to be going really well and while Clarke is looking good at the crease he is finding silly ways of getting out. Rogers, I'm not so sure of and I think it would be best if they bring Watson in his place. He can't do any worse and is a solid bowling option. Doolan and Marsh deserve another crack.

  • on February 21, 2014, 21:37 GMT

    Well Boof, you pick them mate! It really is that simple! Still it will be a good test of character for Marsh and Doolan to see if they can fight back in the second dig. For mine Parnell bowled a couple of very good nuts and when a bloke ain't set it's not easy. Big wrap for Davey though, he just keeps getting better and better. Rogers looks pretty scratchy but then again he looks scratchy even when he makes runs a lot of the time. I'd not be dropping a bloke with his record just yet to squeeze the likes of Marsh in for the 3rd test.

  • on February 21, 2014, 22:01 GMT

    Unfortunately without having fox at home I've been unable to watch but keenly following the media reports on Cricinfo. It is interesting to see how sensationalised an innings can become now. One innings and you're a saviour, or one innings and your neck is on the chopping block. By all accounts Marsh and Doolan batted well in the first test that they need to do this consistently is yet to be seen or proven and this is where their first class records show them up. Now sometimes players really need to be pushed to excel and these two may be in that category. Only time will tell I suppose. But with the media (as a whole not individually) focusing a lot on one performance, how long will a player get? Phil Hughes never seems to get very long yet his record cries out that he will be consistent. Plenty of time left in this test, and the next test and even the series after that. I wonder how different the team will look then

  • xtrafalgarx on February 21, 2014, 23:58 GMT

    Time to cut Rogers loose. He has done his job, but i'm afraid to say he is now holding the team back. He hasn't been as good as we needed him to be at the top of the order and isn't consistent enough. He hasn't gotten runs when they matter, time to move on.

  • xtrafalgarx on February 22, 2014, 0:25 GMT

    Also, this goes to show just how carried away we got by 1 performance from Shaun Marsh and possibly Doolan, though i think Doolan has a better chance long term than Marsh. It's not going to be an easy straight ride to the top to fixing this top order.

    Clarke as well is a big problem. If he wasn't captain, he would be on the verge of being dropped. Since Adelaide, he hasn't passed 30 in 5 tests, he is a big part of the batting collapses that have happened.

  • Maroubra_Flyer on February 22, 2014, 0:47 GMT

    Well done South Africa, quality controlled cricket. Australia are still in it with Smith, Haddin & Johnson to come. We are making the same mistakes as the English, two new players (one a debutant) at 3 & 4. Smith should bat at 3 and Clarke 4. We need experience at the top. Watson to come in & open instead of Rogers if he doesn't score this test & Watson is fit. Great to see a contest, up to us Aus to show our mettle. It's been done before!!!!

  • heathrf1974 on February 22, 2014, 3:24 GMT

    The dismissal by Marsh was disappointing as he should have left the ball. He needs to be more consistent with his levels of concentration.