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Brad Haddin

Time for Smith and Warner to step up

The true test of where the Australians are at as a cricket team will be how they respond at Bellerive Oval this week

Brad Haddin
Brad Haddin
Nathan Lyon gets a hug from Steven Smith after claiming a wicket, England Lions v Australians, day 1, County Ground, Northampton, August 16, 2013

Steve Smith and Nathan Lyon might be good pals off the field, but the captain didn't quite show a great deal of confidence in his spinner on day three in Perth  •  Getty Images

One of the most critical relationships in a cricket team is that between a captain and his spin bowler. A spinner relies more than fast bowlers do on the captain trusting him enough to offer him the right opportunities with the right fields to be successful. Not every spinner - hardly any in fact - possesses the sort of confidence we saw from a Shane Warne or a Graeme Swann at their peak, and the confidence of the captain is the bedrock on which they gain it.
That's why I was intrigued by the way Steve Smith used Nathan Lyon at the WACA Ground, specifically only giving him 12 overs on the third day, with none before lunch. I've seen Steve's explanation about wanting to focus on using the reverse-swinging ball early in the day, but I also know that when Nathan did come on to bowl in the afternoon, he almost immediately created the first clear chance of the day. I wonder how much confidence the decision to hold him back showed in him.
This isn't to say that Steve and Nathan don't have a great relationship - they do. But there's a difference between being friends off the field and strong collaborators on it. One of Michael Clarke's great strengths was a terrific instinct for when and how to use Nathan for maximum impact. It's easy for us to forget that Steve remains a young captain, learning his tactical craft, and a big part of that will be finding ways to get the best out of his spinner.
There was a contrast here between Australia and South Africa, one of many in a Test match where the visitors ran out handsome winners. The game turned on the second day around the time that Dale Steyn left the field injured, as Faf du Plessis gambled boldly and successfully on his dwindling pace resources. Kagiso Rabada was given licence to go after the Australians with a piercing spell of reverse swing, and South Africa never surrendered their advantage.
To be perfectly honest, I was shocked how skilful Rabada was for someone so young. He actually reminded me of Pat Cummins on his Test debut at the Wanderers in 2011. That week, in a high-pressure game, immediately after we had been bowled out for 47 in Cape Town, Patty put on an amazingly complete display as a fast bowler, delivering different kinds of spells, gearing up and down in pace, swinging the ball both ways, and contributing to a nail-biting victory - he even hit the winning runs.
Unfortunately for Pat, he's not been able to stay fit long enough to play another Test since then. But the maturity he showed then, beyond his teenaged years, was mirrored in the way Rabada went about his work in Perth. Once he got a sniff of a wicket he geared up from around 135kph to 145kph, found reverse swing in both innings, and seemed generally to know what he was trying to do at any given moment to work a batsman out. These skills are rare enough in the game, let alone for a 21-year-old.
At key moments in games, like the second day in Perth, a few losses under your belt can mean a feeling of "here we go again" and negative thoughts starting to build up
Above all, Rabada bowled like a leader of the attack, taking it upon himself to change the direction of the game. That's something I look forward to seeing from Josh Hazlewood, who is now getting really settled in the Australian side. Josh played quite a lot of Shield cricket before he took his first big bag, in the 2014 final at Manuka Oval, and I reckon a similar breakthrough moment for him in Tests is just around the corner.
It was no good for the team to lose both Shaun Marsh and Peter Siddle. Shaun looked very much the part as an opening partner for Davey Warner, while Sidds is always a selfless contributor to any team. Coming off his back injury, Sidds would have known the risks going into the game, and really he has fallen prey to the need to back up so quickly after the first-innings batting fell away.
One part of the game we don't always take into calculations is the mental mindset of the guys, particularly now they have lost four Test matches in a row. At key moments in games, like the second day in Perth, a few losses under your belt can mean a feeling of "here we go again" and negative thoughts starting to build up.
That's where I'll be looking for something more from Davey and Steve in Hobart. Davey played beautifully in the first innings but probably left a few runs out there, maybe even 100 more. Steve was looking secure in the second innings when Rabada tempted him into error. The true test of where the Australians are at as a cricket team will be how they respond at Bellerive Oval this week. One thing the team has done really well over recent years - with Davey and Steve often at the forefront - is to counterpunch from a loss.
There's a lot of pride in the group about playing for Australia, and there will also be an awareness of the way Darren Lehmann works as a coach. He's all about letting people make mistakes, because that's how you learn to play the game. But his fuse will shorten if he sees guys repeat similar mistakes a few times, and over the past four Test matches that has certainly been the case, particularly among the batsmen.

Former wicketkeeper Brad Haddin played 66 Tests for Australia