Cool-headed Ferguson makes his mark

Callum Ferguson raises his bat ESPNcricinfo Ltd

There were precious few positives for Australia to take from their embarrassing defeat against South Africa in Centurion on Sunday. In fact, there was really only one. Callum Ferguson's 50 from 83 balls was his second half-century in a six-match ODI career and ensured Australia at least avoided recording their lowest one-day international total after crashing to 19 for 5.

Ferguson, 24, has stepped comfortably up to international level since making his debut against New Zealand in February. He has been dismissed only three times from his six ODI innings and has continued on his promising path having rounded out the New Zealand series at home with an unbeaten 55 at the Gabba, in a match when Australia were also experiencing top-order wobbles.

"It is pleasing from a personal point of view," Ferguson told AAP after his fifty in Centurion. "It's obviously not preferable to be 5 for 19 but it was good to be able to get through that and bat for as long as I did and knock a few around. I probably feel a bit more comfortable at this level. There's probably a bit more self-belief there.

"That's what probably builds up more than anything and you make headway towards improvement. It was disappointing not to see the innings out, which is something I will work on. I will just keep trying to get better in tough situations and go on with starts, which I think I am making progress on."

Capitalising on starts has been an issue at state level for Ferguson in previous seasons. It wasn't a problem this summer as he broke through for his maiden one-day hundred and added two first-class centuries in the space of three games after managing only two in his previous 40 appearances.

But while Ferguson appeared comfortable in Centurion he was the only man - besides maybe Mitchell Johnson - who could be proud of his performance. Brad Haddin, who looked to be settling into the opening role with a confident 53 in the first match, was out in the first over at Centurion and he said it was hard to predict which team would prosper on any given day.

"With the whole series, not just here but in Australia also, you've seen both teams bounce back pretty quickly," Haddin said. "It has been stated before but it's between two pretty even teams. We were hurt the other day so it's up to us this game to take a bit of responsibility ourselves and fix the problems."

Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, said it was important to remove two of Australia's top three early in the innings. "We've got respect for Johnson down at eight so they do theoretically bat down to eight," Arthur said. "We see that with Mike Hussey at five now, he's there to marshall the team toward the back end.

"I think it's crucial that we can get amongst Haddin, Ponting and Clarke pretty early. If we can get two of those early, we do expose the middle order to the newer ball which is something that we've wanted to do. We were able to do that on Sunday and I think we saw the result."

The series continues in Cape Town on Thursday. The scoreline is 1-1 with three matches remaining before Australia fly directly to the United Arab Emirates to take on Pakistan in a limited-overs series.