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March 6, 2014
Australia's coach and selector Darren Lehmann wants to keep the conquering Test team of 2013-14 together for as long as possible, declaring that the senior trio of Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris and Chris Rogers can all have a place on the 2015 Ashes tour provided they keep performing in the current vein.
The tourists' tense but ultimately successful hunt for victory in South Africa on the final day of the Newlands Test was the crowning moment of a summer in which the Ashes were also regained at home - a dual achievement to rate with anything achieved by Australian teams in a single season. Not since 1994-95 when Mark Taylor's men followed up an Ashes jaunt by the ending of West Indies' 15-year unbeaten reign at the top of world cricket have two more significant series victories been fit into a similar period.
Harris, Haddin and Rogers were all integral to that achievement, adding enormous experience, nous and grit to the team. Their performances on the field were spinal also, from Harris' courageous defiance of considerable knee and hip pain to secure the win at Newlands to Rogers' steadying presence at the top of the order and Haddin's combination of brazen batting and tidy glovework.
All have expressed an interest in going on to 2015, Rogers and Harris hopeful of Ashes berths while Haddin has set himself the goal of being part of a winning World Cup team at home earlier in the year. Lehmann has shown little tendency to shuffle his teams on the basis of age, and indicated that all three can make it to the Ashes provided they continue to churn out runs, wickets and dismissals. "If they're playing well they'll play," he said. "If they're not they wont. It's pretty simple."
Lehmann's explanation for the team's ability to win in South Africa, their first overseas Test series triumph since the 2012 tour of the West Indies, revolved largely around the improvement in Australia's batting. First innings runs from the top order under pressure at Centurion and Newlands gave a fearsome bowling attack plenty of time and scoreboard weight, something Harris, Mitchell Johnson and company took rich advantage of.
"We found the ability to cope with a high-class bowling unit. They're a very good bowling attack, South Africa. That's why they're number-one in the world," Lehmann said. "Our batters can take a lot of credit for what they did in this series. In Australia it was more about the bowlers actually bowling them out and batters probably not doing their role well enough, but here they were outstanding, obviously apart from Port Elizabeth where the first innings we were pretty disappointing.
"I'm pleased for the lads and pleased the way we played. Obviously in Australia we were outstanding and for two Test matches here we were outstanding. It's probably only in Port Elizabeth we were disappointing. The way we played overall was exceptional. The brand of cricket we played, we talk about that all the time, the positive brand, if we keep doing that and backing it up each and every day we'll keep improving. I'm pleased with the way they [players] have bought in to what we're about as a team."
From the day of his coaching appointment in Bristol last year, a mere two weeks before the first of two Ashes series, Lehmann has preached a message that goes beyond the winning of matches. He wants to do so in style, with attacking cricket and entertainment for spectators running far in advance of any desire to avoid defeat. The victories in South Africa achieved just that, and Lehmann said he hoped other teams would now follow suit.
"We're not afraid to lose and trying to play the brand of cricket to win Test matches," Lehmann said bluntly of the difference he saw between Australia and South Africa. "It's easy to say that now in hindsight but the way we always push for victories is always important for us. We're happy to lose, but also happy to play cricket in the right way that entertains the crowd.
"Obviously the crowd came in at the end of the day but it was a pretty disappointing crowd for a couple of days here in Cape Town. We want to get people coming through the gates. If other teams want to play on flat wickets and make it quite dull, if you like, then that's their choice."
Some questions have been raised about the overt aggression demonstrated by several of Australia's players on the final day at Newlands, and the captain Michael Clarke admitted to "overstepping the mark" in his verbal joust with Dale Steyn. Lehmann however stated his contentment at the conduct of the series.
"Very happy. It was always going to be a tough series against the No. 1 team in the world, but it's always been the same for many years," he said. "Michael plays it hard, Dale Steyn plays it hard, Graeme Smith was outstanding for a leader for South Africa and he played it very hard. The way it was played, I'm really happy with that."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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