Australia in South Africa 2013-14 February 27, 2014

McDermott tackles reverse riddle

Tentative play from Australia's batsmen contributed to the prodigious reverse swing that brought about their Port Elizabeth downfall almost as much as shrewd handling of the ball by South Africa's bowlers and fielders, Australia's bowling coach Craig McDermott has said.

The sharp old-ball movement gained by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander has been the subject of much discussion since the end of the Test, including a mischievous claim by David Warner about potential ball-tampering that has been angrily rejected by the South African team management.

However McDermott said Australia's loss of momentum following Warner's dismissal on the fourth afternoon was as pivotal a factor as any. The dead bats of Alex Doolan (five runs in 61 minutes) and the centurion Chris Rogers repeatedly played deliveries into a dry and course wicket square at St George's Park, an ideal surface on which to rough up the ball.

"Day three, four and five are obviously the best days to bowl reverse, you're getting more wear and tear on the ball, the square's drier and even the outfield's drier. But the major contributing factor is the ball not going into the outfield," McDermott told ESPNcricinfo. "While our openers were getting the ball out into the outfield that first partnership after that we got quite bogged down.

"The ball hits the square a hell of a lot, played back down the wicket, not going anywhere, so therefore the ball is able to be kept dry and gets roughed up, resulting in more reverse swing. Hats off to Dale Steyn who's got an unbelievable Test record and is a very good reverse bowler. You can't take anything away from him and we've just got to make sure that we can do the same in our preparations for this Test match."

It was during Doolan's time at the crease that Morkel began swinging the ball both ways, and his dismissal of the No. 3 heralded a collapse of 5 for 14 in 10 overs, all batsmen out to deliveries curling late in their path down the pitch. The lack of any momentum to Australia's innings was an unfamiliar sight during the Darren Lehmann era, and it is likely the batsmen will be more assertive if so challenged in Cape Town.

The ball hits the square a hell of a lot, played back down the wicket, not going anywhere, so therefore the ball is able to be kept dry and gets roughed up, resulting in more reverse swing.
Craig McDermott

Other moments of import to the condition of the ball included Graeme Smith's decision to resort to part-time spin, the use of bounce throws into the wicketkeeper AB de Villiers and perhaps even Steyn's gesture of angrily kicking at the ball once or twice. Combined with Australia's dallying, this created a perfect storm of swing that no-one save for Rogers could find a way to ride out.

Almost as noteworthy as the amount of swing gained by South African was the almost total lack of any equivalent bend for Australia's fast men. Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have all swung the old ball sharply at times in the past, but in Port Elizabeth their straightness made the hosts' task far easier on a wicket not offering much in the way of pace or bounce.

The discrepancy was a rare question mark against the mentoring of McDermott, who has otherwise built up a highly impressive record as Australia's pace bowling coach over two stints with the Test team. Nevertheless, he was not perturbed by the imbalance, pointing out that South Africa had the better of bowling conditions during the match and that a fresher Australian combination would be capable of more at Newlands in Cape Town.

"We've won a lot of Test matches over the last little bit and we bowled pretty good reverse in Adelaide [during the Ashes], so I'm not too concerned by that," he said. "I'm not certain what we're going to get here, but certainly we'll have a look at that tomorrow when we get to the ground. We spent eight sessions out of 10 in the field, so that's taxing in itself and we'll have six days off until we play in the Test so guys will be fresher and raring to go."

Harris, Siddle and Johnson have all questioned their methods to varying degrees after the Test, having had a run of six consecutive wins overturned by a heavy defeat. McDermott, who has emphasised consistency and unity in his dealings with the pacemen, has counselled them not to over-think things, reminding them of the successes their methods have wrought in recent times.

"A lot of people can do some soul-searching after spending eight sessions out of 10 in the field," he said. "From my point of view I've been there and done that as well, and sometimes you can think about some things you don't really need to bring into your game. They've all been bowling well all summer, we bowled well in the first Test match, and that's only 10 days ago. So no alarm bells from my point of view and we'll see what the wicket shows up for us at Newlands."

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